A Colorado sheriff’s practice of continuing to jail people suspected of being in the country illegally on behalf of federal authorities is unconstitutional, a judge said as he barred the office from honoring the so-called “detainer” requests.
District Court Judge Eric Bentley ruled late Thursday that El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder has no authority under state law to hold people once they have posted bond, completed a sentence or otherwise resolved their state case.
Courts in several states have ruled that sheriffs cannot hold people on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement without violating the 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
The Colorado American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in February on behalf of two people who attempted to post bond but were told they would not be released because of a request from federal immigration authorities. The ACLU later expanded the El Paso County lawsuit to cover all current and future jail inmates.
“Federal immigration authorities cannot order, and are not ordering, Sheriff Elder to hold inmates beyond the term of their release,” Bentley wrote. “They are merely requesting that he do so. Whether he does so is his choice, and it is he who is legally responsible for the decision.”
Elder argued that the 48-hour holds should not be considered a new arrest, but the judge disagreed. Bentley also rejected Elder’s claim that complying with ICE’s requests makes El Paso County safer.
He noted all but two Colorado counties stopped honoring the requests in 2015 at the ACLU’s urging.
“Had that change in practice created public safety issues, there would no doubt be evidence to show for it, whether in the form of data or, at the least, affidavits from other sheriffs,” he wrote.
Elder’s spokeswoman, Jacqueline Kirby, said he plans to appeal the ruling. She declined further comment about ongoing litigation.
The sheriff’s office has said it stopped honoring immigration authorities’ requests in March, when Bentley ordered a temporary halt during the lawsuit.
Court records say the sheriff’s office still notifies immigration authorities when someone who may be in the country illegally is about to leave the jail. The judge said Elder can continue those notifications.
Courts across the country are facing similar questions, prompting the Trump administration to begin a test program in Florida this year in hopes of shielding law enforcement agencies from lawsuits. The program contracts local jails to hold immigrants for up to 48 hours on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
One of the 17 agencies participating in Florida was sued this week by a U.S. citizen, detained on behalf of federal agents who reported the man may be eligible for deportation to Jamaica. The lawsuit accused the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office of violating the man’s constitutional rights.
In Colorado, the ACLU is suing a second sheriff’s agency for its compliance with immigration authorities’ requests. A Teller County judge in August declined to order a temporary halt to the sheriff’s practice; the lawsuit is pending.
“Clearly, the issues are ones on which reasonable minds may differ,” Bentley wrote in his decision. “Resolution of one of these cases by a higher court is needed in order to provide certainty in this area to Colorado’s sheriffs and the immigrant population.”
On a blustery morning over Veteran’s Day weekend, I walked along the shores of nearly frozen Evergreen Lake with my wife and in-laws who were visiting from Ohio.
After we paused to take pictures of the lake and foothills — which looked spectacular after a blanket of fresh snow fell the night before — a hawk circled overhead as we headed back to the car.
On the way, we noticed a sticker on the park’s information display indicating the park received funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
While little known, the Conservation Fund is America’s most successful parks and public lands program. The Conservation Fund was signed into law in 1964 with the simple idea to take a small portion of the proceeds from offshore oil drilling and invest them in our parks and public lands for future generations to enjoy.
This fund and the resources provided to Colorado could disappear if Congress doesn’t take immediate action.
Over its half-century in existence, the Conservation Fund pumped more than $16 billion into improving parks and public lands — from local parks like Evergreen Lake to our national parks and national forests.
In Colorado, more than $268 million has gone to supporting more than a 1,000 projects in nearly every community across the state — benefiting Colorado’s $62 billion outdoor recreation economy.
Of those 1,000 projects, communities from Pueblo to Steamboat and Rifle to Aurora, and nearly everywhere in between, have received funding for swimming pools, reservoirs, trails, and ballfields at local parks.
In East Denver’s Montbello neighborhood, an open space park recently welcomed a new climbing boulder — another project supported by the Conservation Fund.
But it’s not just local neighborhoods that have benefited from the program. Some of Colorado’s most spectacular public lands and National Parks have as well. Rocky Mountain National Park, the White River National Forest and the Great Sand Dunes have all received Conservation Fund support, opening new trails, providing for protected wildlife habitat for sportsmen, and granting new river access to anglers.
Earlier this year, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, and Rep. Scott Tipton, celebrated a new addition to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose.
The Black Canyon features 2,000-foot vertical cliffs carved by the Gunnison River through the western Colorado landscape. The new addition will provide for more recreation opportunities, protected wildlife habitat, and other potential improvements for the park, which welcomes 300,000 visitors annually.
Unfortunately, the Conservation Fund expired on Sept. 30, even with support from a majority of the House of Representatives and nearly a majority of the Senate. Congress simply did not take action in time to renew the program due to gridlock on other issues.
Every day the program lies dormant, American families lose out on $2.4 million in funding that ought to be going to support our parks and public lands. After two months of expiration, we’ve lost out on $156 million and counting.
The Conservation Fund is so popular that it enjoys strong support from nearly all members of Colorado’s congressional delegation — the only outliers being Reps. Doug Lamborn and Ken Buck who are not co-sponsors of LWCF legislation (Though they should be!).
In the waning days of the 115th Congress, our elected officials should reauthorize this incredibly popular and much-needed program. There will be lots of discussion in the coming weeks about funding the U.S. government and passing a budget. The Conservation Fund should be part of those discussions.
Congress should give us all an early holiday present by permanently reauthorizing and providing robust dedicated funding for our most successful parks program — the Land and Water Conservation Fund — so future generations of families can enjoy places like Evergreen Lake and the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Jim Ramey is the Colorado State Director for the Wilderness Society.
Colorado, like many states, is working to overhaul its antiquated child welfare system that, despite important successes, is expensive, reactionary rather than proactive, activates too late, and regularly leaves children, families and wrongly maligned human services staff unsatisfied.
This overhaul is overdue as Colorado, like the rest of the country, grapples with the cascading effects of childhood trauma. Colorado’s child welfare referrals have increased 46 percent over the past 10 years, while our state’s child abuse and neglect hotline (1-844-CO-4-KIDS) ended 2017 with a staggering 211,554 calls.
Removals of children from unsafe homes have been increasing nationwide since 2012, primarily because of parental substance abuse.
While the child welfare sector is straining under this influx, it is simultaneously rewiring to overcome sector outcomes that can’t continue.
The cornerstone objective of the law is to shift resources and effort away from costly, too-frequently used out-of-home placements toward prevention and early interventions.
Simply put, the goal is to reinvent the sector by encouraging early and comprehensive investments and interventions so that families experiencing trauma can instead thrive together in their homes and communities. And if a child needs to be removed from an unsafe home, the intent is to do so in a way that minimalizes the time they spend outside of a permanent, safe home setting.
As such, child welfare in Colorado is likely to look much different in a few years. Thankfully.
The sector will more comprehensively tackle multi-generational trauma so that parents can transform, not transmit, their pain. New allies who have always been on the front line of healing will emerge more prominently, such as Boys & Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, and communities of faith activating around families.
Expect newly empowered nurses and schools to identify opportunities to support families earlier, and watch as service providers like the Tennyson Center for Children morph for greater impact.
Moreover, Coloradans will be asked to rethink how we consciously and subconsciously isolate families experiencing trauma. Traumatized families often unravel as they lose jobs to care for kids, struggle financially and emotionally and are stigmatized for raising “bad kids” when nothing could be further from the truth.
Finally, Colorado can lead nationally on FFPSA implementation by tackling a handful of weaknesses in the new law that will undermine success.
First, Colorado should courageously attack the funding models that perpetuate late-stage interventions. Sector funding is largely locked into narrow medical billing codes that mistakenly miss opportunities for early interventions that are more impactful, save money and are focused on supporting family unity, but are hard to finance.
Leaders need to reimagine funding models and move beyond current “medical necessity” and “imminent risk” categories that only apply once families-in-need reach a crisis point.
Second, we need to eliminate the notion that youth have to “fail” at lower levels of care to qualify for higher levels. Need should be assessed individually, based on current circumstances and not on a medical model where youth must essentially “fail” in order to receive the support they actually need.
Delaying support often leads to more severe needs, more complex trauma, and an increase in risk factors that often outweigh protective factors.
Third, and linked to the above, is the mistake made by legislators in our nation’s capital in pushing “evidence-based (therapeutic) practices” over outcomes.
Agencies are scrambling to figure out which evidence-based practices will be eligible for funding when in fact what should be center stage is holding agencies accountable for outcomes that change the narrative of kids’ and families’ journeys through child welfare.
Healing journeys are complex, not easily boxed into the practices under consideration, and certainly not only contingent on therapy.
Instead, agencies like Tennyson should demonstrate that they can stabilize children and families experiencing trauma, help them heal and build strategies to sustain that healing over time while successfully reintegrating kids and families into their community without the need for ongoing child welfare involvement.
Better outcomes only come from a mix of therapies, healthy relationships, schooling and other interventions (such as but not limited to art, music, substance abuse treatment, parent support groups and membership in organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs) that transcend the FFPSA’s evidence-based practice requirement.
Finally, we need to integrate Colorado’s Child Maltreatment Prevention Framework for Action and FFPSA. The maltreatment framework is outcome-focused, embraces early interventions and understands the critical flag of “neglect” that sadly will never rise to the visibility of “medical necessity.”
Our best opportunity to intervene in ways that limit child welfare engagement is to elevate “neglect” as a true intervention point.
Ultimately, we envision a world where abuse and neglect dramatically decline and trauma is addressed in radically new ways, unshackling victims from the pain of their past and positively unleashing them into the opportunities of their future.
FFPSA sets the table, and Colorado has a chance to lead the nation in designing the particular menu that truly changes the game.
Edward D. Breslin (Ned) is the president and CEO of the Tennyson Center for Children. Brandon Young is Tennyson’s chief advancement officer.
Democrats, have long derided TABOR for the constraints it places on government. Not only does TABOR require a vote of the people to approve tax increases, but several of its provisions work in conjunction with other laws to create a “ratcheting effect” on government spending.
If revenues drop during an economic downturn, they cannot return to prior levels as the economy rebounds. Instead, growth is artificially tied to the down year plus a pittance for inflation.
The ratchet works like boa constrictor wrapped around a person. With every breath out, the snake squeezes a little tighter and the next breathe in is a little shallower.
Eventually, no breath can be drawn, and the person dies. I’m sure it delights TABOR’s progenitor, the eccentric Douglas Bruce, to imagine the government being asphyxiated.
Democrats have a little different view; they see a snake crushing the life from Colorado citizens. Gasping for funds no longer available, state and local services wither and waste away.
That leaves Coloradans who rely on those services without recourse. As such, progressives have carried on a holy war against TABOR since it passed in 1992.
Of course, it’s hard to argue against a tag line like “let the people vote.” It’s a classic Catch-22; if you disagree, you must be positively authoritarian. Nuanced arguments like the ratcheting effect don’t make much impression on the populace writ large during our current Trumpian political era.
Consequently, Democrats — buttressed with enough Republicans to label their efforts “bipartisan” — have routinely turned to the courts for TABOR relief.
As Hickenlooper just discovered, courts have provided little solace.
Maybe to get his name on the other side of the ledger before tilting at presidential windmills, Hickenlooper asked the state’s top court to weigh in on conflicts between TABOR and the Gallagher Amendment, a constitutional provision meant to protect residential property owners from bearing an unfair portion of property taxes.
Much like the ratcheting effect, after residential property tax rates decrease under Gallagher, TABOR keeps the rates from increasing again without voter approval. The result leaves local jurisdictions and special districts feeling squoze.
With recourse through the courts blocked, the impetus must now come from the newly-elected-but-not-sworn-in Democratic majorities in the legislature.
As candidates, almost every Democrat denounced TABOR and pledged to fight for its repeal if given the chance. But come January there may be a lot of “careful what you wish for” filling the halls of the state Capitol. The same citizens who delivered Democratic majorities soundly defeated multiple ballot proposals to increase taxes.
An attack on TABOR might pose just the type of overreach that could cause voters to constrict in 2020 and leave Democrats gasping for air.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare, and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
The rise of a competitor to Vail Resorts’ industry-transforming Epic Pass this year has slowed the growth in season-pass revenue for the continent’s largest resort operator, which on Friday announced a big boost in capital spending as yet another volley of a blossoming pass war.
The market apparently did not like the decline in pass revenue, with shares of Vail Resorts falling more than $50 a share — more than 18 percent — within hours of the earnings announcement, marking one of the biggest one-day sell-offs since the company went public 22 years ago.
Vail Resorts’ chief Rob Katz on Friday told investors that he expected to sell 925,000 Epic Passes for the 2018-19 ski season, which includes about 100,000 deeply discounted $99 military passes. The company reported 750,000 Epic Passes sold last season.
Take out the sales to new military-pass buyers, and the company said Epic Pass sales increased 8 percent in units and 10 percent in revenue compared to the same period last season. This year the Epic Pass is competing against Alterra Mountain Co.’s new Ikon Pass.
Last December Katz reported season pass sales were up 14 percent in units and 20 percent in dollars for the 2017-18 season over the previous season. In December 2016, he reported pass sales had climbed 16 percent in units and 20 percent in dollars over the previous season.
Epic Pass sales for 2016-17 and 2017-18 set records for Vail Resorts. So the 10 percent annual growth in Epic Pass sales revenue for 2018-19 marks Vail Resorts’ largest year-over-year decline in pass sale revenue growth since the pass debuted a decade ago.
Katz was reluctant to point to the emergence of the Ikon Pass as the source of the plateauing pass revenue. He noted “slight” declines in Epic Pass sales in California’s Lake Tahoe region and Utah, where the company owns the Northstar, Heavenly and Park City resorts and Alterra owns Squaw-Alpine and Deer Valley.
Despite the softness in California and Utah, Katz said sales were strong in Colorado and the Northeast, where the company this summer added Vermont’s Okemo and New Hampshire’s Mount Sunapee ski areas to its roster of now 15 destination ski areas, that also includes Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
When queried on whether the rare slowing of Epic Pass revenue was caused more by the competition from Ikon or typical resort challenges with poor snow and a maturing pass market, Katz said the Ikon affirms Vail Resorts’ business model of pushing people away from day lift tickets.
“We think Ikon has a great product for the resorts in their network and we think their entry has helped the overall market, in that they have bought greater awareness and they are carrying the message around that if you are going to ski, you should buy a season pass,” Katz said.
Vail Resorts always loses money in its first quarter, when lifts are dormant in August, September and October. This year was no different with the company reporting a net loss of $107.8 million, compared to $28.4 million for the same period last year.
The loss grew due to expenses from the acquisition of four new ski resorts and currency rates from Australia’s Perisher resort, Katz said. The loss was wider than expected, contributing to the stock sell-off that comes as the company’s Colorado resorts — Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone — boast their best early-season conditions in many years.
Despite the increased first-quarter losses, Katz said Vail Resorts is on track to report $718 million to $750 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for the fiscal year. That compares to $616.6 million in resort earnings for fiscal 2018, before the company added Crested Butte, Okemo, Mount Sunapee and Washington’s Stevens Pass ski areas to its portfolio.
Alterra executives say they expect to sell more than 250,000 Ikon Passes this year, a robust performance for a first-year product. The company — a partnership between Denver’s KSL Capital Partners and the Crown family that owns Aspen Skiing Co. — corralled 14 destination resorts in the last year, forging the Ikon Pass as a rival to the Epic Pass.
The company inherited pass buyers for those 14 resorts, which include Winter Park, Steamboat, Utah’s Deer Valley and southern California’s Mammoth Resorts. According to an executive at the company, Alterra hoped to grow pass sales from the resorts it acquired between 25 percent to 30 percent by adding access to 23 other ski areas through partnerships across the continent.
Just as the Epic Pass transformed the ski industry when it debuted in 2008 — delivering not just discounted skiing but a consistent boost of off-season revenue that lessened Vail Resorts’ financial risk from low-snow years — the new season-pass war promises even more change for the resort industry with competition benefitting skiers.
To wit, Katz is planning a record investment in his resorts for next season, directing up to $143 million toward improvements and upgrades. That compares to previous capital investments in the last four years of $131 million, $103 million, $100 million and $85 million. Alterra Mountain Co. plans to invest $555 million in its network of resorts over the next five years, including a new gondola opening this month at Winter Park and a new gondola for Steamboat in 2019-20.
The Vail Resorts improvements planned for the 2019-20 ski season include:
Snowmaking expansions at Vail, allowing the mountain to open one week earlier in November, with 387 new high-efficiency snowmaking guns.
Snowmaking expansion for Beaver Creek’s beginner-friendly Buffalo Park and a renovation for children’s ski school.
New mobile technology enabling skiers who bought their pass online to get their passes from a mobile-ticket agent in the lift line.
A new BBQ restaurant for Park City on the Canyons side of the resort.
Space at the Grand Colorado hotel at the base of Breckenridge’s Peak 8 — on land the company sold to the hotel developer last year – for new ski school and childcare facilities. A new zipline will open at Breckenridge next summer.
Two new lifts at Stevens Pass and two on-mountain restaurant upgrades at Okemo.
Snowmaking upgrades at Keystone, enabling the resort to open three weeks earlier, positioning it to be the first resort to open in the country, Katz said.
The snowmaking expansion at Keystone is specifically aimed at rewarding skiers who buy the Epic Pass, Katz said.
“We are really making a push here to say, ‘Yeah, we are going to have a better product open earlier.’ We see an opportunity to make a statement. This is an investment in that loyalty program and we will see real benefit from that,” he said.
Your regular, bushy-bearded host, Eric Lubbers, is still off, so you’ve got me today and my 10 o’clock shadow.
Since we are at the end of a loooong week of increasingly short days, I will dispense with the usual bits of wisdom here and just offer an incredibly heartfelt thank you. Ever since we launched The Colorado Sun only 88 days ago this morning, you have welcomed us into your lives and proved that Colorado is a place where people value being engaged, being informed and listening to one another. And, for that, I simply can’t thank you beautiful people enough.
But there’s still lots of folks out there who haven’t heard of us and who would want to be part of this community if they did, so here are three things you can do to help spread the word — and two of them won’t cost you a dime:
Open and read your Sunrisers. (Check and check!)
Forward them to your friends, your family, your neighbors, your baristas, your dog groomers, your fishmongers and any anybody else who is near and dear to your heart.
Give the gift of news. Our merch store now has gift memberships — along with some pretty cool stickers, T-shirts and tote bags that won’t rip no matter how many wine bottles (uh, I mean, water bottles) you put in them. Every penny we make on those sales goes to supporting our locally focused, locally owned journalism. Buy them at coloradosun.com/store.
All right, the weekend is almost upon us, so let’s shake this tambourine, shall we?
Gov.-elect Jared Polis has dozens of positions to fill, but one is tougher than all the rest
Does anyone want to be the head of the Colorado Department of Human Services? Anybody? Anybody?
Reggie Bicha held the job for eight years, an absolute eternity in the a-million-things-are-happening-at-once-and-so-many-of-them-can-go-wrong world of human services leadership. He’s heading out the door, though, which means Polis needs to find someone who can simultaneously run two psychiatric hospitals, four nursing homes, 10 youth corrections centers and 40 group homes for people with disabilities — in addition to overseeing all the other responsibilities of the office, from child welfare to addiction treatment to food assistance.
How to get away with … well, carelessness, at least
Political committees owe Colorado $2.3 million this year in fines for overdue filings, but don’t expect the Secretary of State’s Office to start busting knuckles to get their dough. The office typically settles for dramatically less.
You’ve had a unique system where it didn’t cost you as much. But people in Colorado have to pay for water.
— Bill Tyner, Colorado Division of Water Resources
I didn’t come here from California to see it look like California.
— Victor resident Wendy Lee Sobisky
A fascinating battle is raging in Teller County, where locals who have come to rely on an artesian spring that’s owned by no one are fighting back against a state order to cap the spring because it doesn’t have a permit. In a Colorado becoming drier by the year, will fights about water in the future be as much about our collective identity as about our resources?
// Don’t be put off by the wonk factor: The literal power struggle between a giant electricity wholesaler based in Westminster and the West Slope electrical co-op trying to break free from it is an existential battle over how the West will be run.
// A bill on abandoned mines introduced Thursday by Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton has almost no hope of passing this year. So why do those guys think it could break two decades of gridlock on the issue?
// Online retailers selling in Colorado, take a breath. You now have until at least May 31 to comply with new sales tax rules.
The fun stuff
As someone who has felt the panic of having a live television camera stare straight into your soul and make you question everything you’ve ever believed about yourself in front of God and Wolf Blitzer and everyone, this week’s What’d I Miss really hit home. Plus, Drew Litton gives NFL defenses a warning about Broncos rookie sensation — and Colorado native — Phillip Lindsay.
In all of the pictures I have seen of the two of them before I was born, she has a round face, and she looks shocked—at what, I don’t know, but it might be her luck at finding this handsome man who didn’t beat her like the two husbands she had before.
An excerpt from Stephanie G’Schwind’s “Beautiful Flesh: A Body of Essays,”
Truth be told, this one had me at the cover art, but the essay that follows, by Lupe Linares, is just as beautiful. In this week’s interview, Stephanie G’Schwind — the editor who compiled “Beautiful Flesh: A Body of Essays,” the anthology containing Linares’ essay — said she sees the collection as sharing a common heart: “It’s so satisfying to find essays that speak to one another, to see them side by side, and watch how, when gathered together, they become something much greater than their sum.”
Each Friday, The Colorado Sun’s beer writer, John Frank, offers a recommendation for the weekend.
Roadhouse Brewing is a newer name on Colorado’s beer shelves. The Jackson, Wyoming, brewer makes a handful of lighter beers, but it’s the West Coast IPA named Wilson that stands out. The punchy bitterness with tropical and pine hop flavors make for a quenching sip and refreshing alternative to the hazy IPA trend.
// Ridiculous housing costs in California are creating a kind of Reverse Grapes of Wrath, as shown by this story about a landlord who sold all his houses in San Jose and moved himself and several tenants in a caravan to Colorado Springs. // East Bay Times
// Library scofflaws, rejoice! The end of library fines is nigh in Denver — and the city will also forgive nearly $500,000 in current fines — in the hopes of making it easier on low-income patrons. // The Denver Post
// We don’t usually share commentary in The Shortlist, but this one is so relevant to Denver’s current debate about supervised injection sites: National drug policy expert Keith Humphreys looks at the evidence for whether such sites reduce overdose deaths. // The Colorado Sun, The Washington Post
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Your Thing for Today
The Thing: The semi-hidden murals of Allen Tupper True
Why You Might Like It: In this season of competitive cosumering, it’s practically magical to stumble upon something both free and beautiful — like watching a sunset that only you can see. Wander around central Denver enough, though, and that’s what will happen with Allen Tupper True’s murals. True is most famous for painting murals that adorn both the Colorado and Wyoming state capitol buildings. But, once you learn to spot them, they are everywhere.
This website, apparently run by True’s granddaughter, has a good list of his murals. We can debate later whether True’s paintings overly romanticize or stereotype the Old West. But for now, if you happen to be in Denver, you might take a break from the holiday hubbub and have yourself a cultural scavenger hunt.
Editor’s note: Every Sunriser will include one … thing … to cap off our time together. The Thing will be just about anything, like a TV show or a book or a particularly cool dog toy.
Hey, you’re all caught up now! We’ll be back on Monday with another Sunriser written by another one of my talented colleagues.
Until then, thanks for reading and have a great weekend!
Recommendations about who should run more than a dozen state agencies with thousands of employees and multi-million or billion-dollar budgets will hit the governor-elect’s desk this weekend.
A team of committees appointed by Jared Polis has sorted through hundreds of applications to pick the top candidates to manage everything from Colorado’s roads and bridges to its system of universities and community colleges. Their recommendations are due Saturday.
Several departments have the potential for major change, as a number of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s appointees already have left for new jobs or signaled they will leave at the end of his term.
Among the toughest positions to fill is executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services, a behemoth that includes a multitude of divisions where any number of things can go wrong.
The department oversees two hospitals for people with mental illness, four nursing homes, 40 group homes for people with disabilities, 10 youth corrections centers, the state’s food assistance program, child support and the foster care system in all 64 counties. Plus, it has more than 5,000 employees and a $2.2 billion budget.
No matter the state, human services departments are fraught with tragedy and conflict.
Under Hickenlooper’s administration, the department had to answer for an abuse scandal at Pueblo Regional Center, a home for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities where residents had words scratched into their bodies and staff blamed paranormal activity. The food-assistance and public benefits programs were repeatedly targeted with federal sanctions for their delays in helping needy people who applied.
And there was the time in 2015 when more than 80 lawmakers signed a no-confidence letter regarding the department’s leadership and sent it to Hickenlooper’s office, forcing him to choose sides between his cabinet member and the vast majority of the legislature.
Yet executive director Reggie Bicha has managed to keep the job for eight years, an anomaly nationally. He rivals Connecticut’s commissioner of social services, Roderick Bremby, who has been in the job since April 2011, three months after Bicha became Colorado’s human services director.
The average tenure across the nation for a human services director was unavailable, but experts said it is far shorter than eight years. The closest comparison available was for state public health directors, whose median tenure is less than three years, according to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Bicha’s predecessor, Karen Beye, served from 2007 to 2010.
The high turnover is thanks to revolving governors’ administrations, burnout, turmoil and, as Hickenlooper put it at the height of Bicha’s conflict with lawmakers, the fact that it’s as “tough a job as there is.”
Bicha, 49, has not reapplied, noting that “eight years in a big job like this” is plenty. In an interview, he joked that he had forgotten about the legislature’s no-confidence letter. But in all seriousness, he praised Hickenlooper for “his capacity to stand up” for the people in his administration who are working hard and not taking “a political easy road of ‘I’m going to get rid of that person and bring somebody else in.’”
Hickenlooper “also said, ‘Go fix your relationships with the legislature,’ but he stood behind us,” Bicha recalled.
Bicha was recruited by Hickenlooper’s transition team from Wisconsin, where he was secretary of the Department of Children and Families. Under his leadership, the Colorado Department of Human Services added 335 more child protection caseworkers in three years after an analysis found they were understaffed and undertrained. Colorado created a statewide child abuse hotline to replace a previous system where each county had its own phone number to take referrals, and focused on moving more foster children out of institutions and into homes.
In youth corrections, the department ended use of the “Wrap,” a restraining device, and reduced solitary confinement after both were targeted in a scathing report from youth advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
The department also created a quality-evaluation program called C-Stat, which tracks county-by-county outcomes in foster care, food stamps and behavioral health. County human services departments — and county commissioners — get monthly reports comparing their progress to neighboring or similar-size counties.
Bicha’s department is more transparent than when he arrived, but the next human services leader surely will face a host of issues, old and new. At the forefront now is the state’s backlogged system for people with mental illness who have been found incompetent to face criminal charges and are languishing in jail for treatment to “restore them to competency.”
The law requires treatment within 28 days, but the state is not meeting that deadline.
Colorado has seen a huge increase in competency restorations in the last two decades, from 85 in 2000 to more than 1,000 last year, according to the human services department. Disability Law Colorado sued the state in a case that has been ongoing for years.
“Our ability to keep up with the number of beds that we need to meet that significant growth and demand is something, unfortunately, that we have not been able to resolve in this administration,” Bicha said.
The new administration and incoming legislature should consider changing statute to allow people in need of restoration to receive it while living in the community instead of a state hospital, Bicha said. Either that, or the state needs a lot more beds.
“The way the criminal code is written, we have to serve people in a hospital setting who don’t need to be in a hospital,” he said. “It’s squeezing out people who do need to be in a hospital.” And it’s causing people with mental illness to sit in jail, in violation of state law.
Bicha, a former social worker, has yet to figure out his next job, but said he is looking for a position serving kids and families outside of state government.
Where’s everybody going?
Polis’ selection committee members aren’t talking about their goals and neither is Polis’ office. Polis spokeswoman Mara Sheldon declined to answer questions about the governor-elect’s vision for the future of state agencies, including human services.
But several department directors who served under Hickenlooper have announced their new jobs or told The Colorado Sun they did not reapply to keep their current positions. A few have indicated they’re hoping to stay.
“It would be an honor,” said Michael Hartman, who about a year and a half ago was appointed by Hickenlooper as executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue, which oversees the lottery, the tax division and the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Kim Bimestefer, who was appointed in January as head of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, reapplied for her position but declined to give an interview for this story. Bimestefer, who has focused on cutting hospital costs for consumers in the last year, oversees the state’s Medicaid spending as well as a low-cost public health insurance plan for pregnant women and children.
At the state health department, questions about whether acting executive director Karin McGowan applied for the permanent job were rebuffed. “I think you should ask the governor-elect’s team that question,” said Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokesman Mark Salley.
McGowan was appointed in August after Dr. Larry Wolk, who had been head of the department since 2013, left for a job in the private sector.
At the Colorado Department of Higher Education, the response was similar: no comment about whether Dan Baer, appointed as executive director in May, had reapplied. Colorado Department of Transportation executive director Michael Lewis, appointed one year ago, also had no comment.
Colorado’s secretary of technology and chief information officer, Suma Nallapati, recently announced she would leave at the end of Hickenlooper’s term to become senior vice president of DISH Network. She had been in the state job since 2014.
And Department of Corrections executive director Rick Raemisch, who was appointed in 2013 following the murder of the previous director by a parolee, did not re-apply to serve under Polis, a department spokesman said. Raemisch received national attention during his tenure for his work in reducing solitary confinement.
The first department head hires by the Polis team are expected as soon as next week.
BILLINGS, Mont. — The Trump administration moved forward Thursday with plans to ease restrictions on oil and natural gas drilling, mining and other activities that were put in place to protect an imperiled bird species across millions of acres in the American West.
Land management documents released by the U.S. Interior Department show the administration intends to open more public lands to leasing and allow waivers for drilling to encroach into the habitat of greater sage grouse.
Critics warned the changes could wipe out grouse colonies as drilling disrupts breeding grounds. Federal officials under President Barack Obama in 2015 had adopted a sweeping set of land use restrictions intended to stop the birds’ decline.
Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt said the agency was responding to requests by states to give them more flexibility in how public lands are managed. He said the goal to conserve sage grouse was unchanged.
“I completely believe that these plans are leaning forward on the conservation of sage grouse,” Bernhardt told The Associated Press. “Do they do it in exactly the same way? No. We made some change in the plans and got rid of some things that are simply not necessary.”
The changes drew a sharp backlash from conservation groups and wildlife advocates, who warned excessive use of drilling waivers could push sage grouse onto the list of threatened and endangered species.
“If you allow exception after exception, that might make sense for a particular project in a particular spot, but you add them all together and you have death by a thousand cuts,” said National Wildlife Association Vice President Tracy Stone-Manning.
Sage grouse range across about 270,000 square miles (700,000 square kilometers) in parts of 11 Western U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. Their numbers plummeted in recent decades.
In 2015, after determining the Obama administration’s plans were sufficient to keep the bird from slipping toward extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pledged to revisit its status in five years.
The agency revealed Thursday that it no longer plans that 2020 status review, often a first step toward determining if greater protections are needed.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Strickland told the AP that the Fish and Wildlife Service is not legally required to complete a review. Instead, it will work with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to document the effectiveness of the conservation plans.
Under President Donald Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has vowed to lift obstacles to drilling, and grouse protections have long been viewed by the energy industry as an obstacle to development.
The new plans remove the most protective habitat designations for about 13,000 square miles (34,000 square kilometers) of public land. Those areas, considered essential to the species’ survival, were a centerpiece of the Obama policy. The Trump administration also wants to drop some requirements to prioritize leasing for oil and gas outside sage grouse habitat.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said Thursday’s announcement showed federal officials heeded the state’s desire for changes to the 2015 plans.
“This is a great example of federal leaders listening to state leaders, valuing their expertise, and changing their plans based on that input,” Herbert said in a statement.
But U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, said the Interior Department “has decided to put the interests of the oil and gas industry ahead of the best interests of Nevadans.”
“This new plan undermines the delicate balance Western states had struck to ensure the protection of sage grouse populations and strengthen economic development across the western United States,” she said.
Sage grouse are large, ground-dwelling birds known for an elaborate mating ritual in which males strut around breeding grounds with large, puffed-out air sacs protruding from their chests.
They once numbered in the millions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now estimates there are 200,000 to 500,000 of the birds after energy development, disease and other causes decimated populations in some areas.
The Trump administration’s proposal would reverse or modify the Obama-era protections in seven states — Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, California, Idaho and Oregon. No significant changes were proposed in Montana, Washington or the Dakotas.
The oil and gas industry chafed at the old rules. Once Trump took office, industry representatives lobbied the administration to give more recognition to changes in drilling practices that reduce land disturbance.
“We can do both — protect sage grouse and move forward with responsible energy development,” said Kathleen Sgamma with the Western Energy Alliance, which represents more than 300 oil and gas companies. “We’ve reduced the size of well pads, reduced the numbers of wells. And we had done all these things and the prior administration assumed development was taking place like it was 20 years ago.”
Governors from several Western states previously raised concerns over a related federal directive from the Bureau of Land Management that would limit a type of land swap that can be used to preserve habitat for the birds.
Without land swaps and related forms of compensation to offset habitat damage, the governors said it would be harder to help the sage grouse.
In response, the Interior Department Thursday revised the directive to say federal officials would consider state-mandated or voluntary proposals for land swaps or similar offsets.
“Where there’s a state requirement, we require in our permits that they comply with state requirements,” Bernhardt said.
The governors and the public get another chance to weigh in before a final decision is expected in early 2019.
Stephanie G’Schwind is the director of the Center for Literary Publishing at Colorado State University, where she edits “Colorado Review” and directs a publishing internship for graduate students.
In addition to curating the Colorado Prize for Poetry books and, with Donald Revell, the Mountain West Poetry Series, she is also the editor of two anthologies: “Man in the Moon: Essays on Fathers and Fatherhood” and “Beautiful Flesh: A Body of Essays.”
The following is an interview about her work on “Beautiful Flesh: A Body of Essays.”
What inspired you to write this book?
I really enjoy publishing anthologies; “Beautiful Flesh” is my second. It’s so satisfying to find essays that speak to one another, to see them side by side, and watch how, when gathered together, they become something much greater than their sum. There’s a long tradition of writing on the body, and I wanted to contribute to that conversation.
I had edited and published two essays in “Colorado Review” — one on the heart and one on bones — that inspired me to pursue others to create an anthology. Originally I had planned a more general theme — the body — but as I began to collect essays on parts of the body, it occurred to me that I could create a body from the essays. And that’s when it really got fun.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
Ann Patchett, Zadie Smith, Elena Ferrante, Joan Didion, Meghan Daum, Mary Cantwell, Susanna Kaysen—just to name a handful.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
Selecting just one essay from this anthology was hard because I love them all. Lupe Linares’s essay especially resonates with me, however, because I have a great fear of losing my teeth. But I also love this piece for the way it is not, of course, just about teeth but about family, health, anxiety, as well as class.
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
This whole project was so much fun, from beginning to end. But the most rewarding part is giving these writers more exposure, making it possible for more readers to encounter these fabulous essays.
All of them had been printed in journals, and it’s very possible that if one didn’t see a particular issue of a particular magazine, one may never have the opportunity to read this or that essay. But also very rewarding was seeing the magic created when all the individual essays came together to form a human body.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
The only part of this book that I wrote was the introduction, which was surprisingly difficult for me. I always find introductions challenging.
You want to get the anthology off on the right foot, to welcome your readers into the collection, and to explain why you’ve assembled these pieces and what you hope people will take away from the experience. I like to try to do this in as few pages as possible, to get out of the way so readers can get to the good stuff.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
I love this fact about sinuses that I learned from Dinty W. Moore’s essay, “The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis”: there is a theory that our sinuses act as shock absorbers, protecting our heads from injury should we fall or hit them against something hard.
What project are you working on next?
Well, I’m editing the next issue of “Colorado Review” (Spring 2019), as well as the one after that and the one after that . . . But I always have ideas in mind for future anthologies. I’d love to put one together with essays on photography, or on names and naming, or on the concept of in-between-ness.
Number nineteen fell apart unexpectedly when I bit into the world’s softest piece of garlic bread. Biting into that bread felt the way I imagined biting into a cloud might—airy, moist. My mouth seemed empty, but I could taste the hint of garlic and the melted mozzarella all around. When my teeth clamped on the hard chunk of something, I spit it out in shock. The little beige rectangle hit my plate, made a sound like two glasses clinking, skidded across it, off the edge, and onto the red-checkered tablecloth.
I could tell it was a tooth, but I hoped it wasn’t mine. I ran my tongue across my teeth to check, and sure enough, a third of one of my molars was gone, leaving a cavern in which a morsel of garlic bread lay trapped. The break was clean—a deliberate straight line that made it look as though someone or something had been living inside the tooth, sawing at it until it was weak and could be tapped out of place. I picked up the third of my tooth from the table and held it between my fingers while my tongue probed at what remained. Even though the change happened less than a minute before, I couldn’t remember what it felt like not to have that emptiness in my mouth.
Almost a week before my tooth fell apart, my mom called to tell me about my dad’s front tooth, which had been damaged in a car accident years before and had been slowly dying ever since. My mom and I were both in the truck when the accident happened. We were driving down one of the narrow, paved roads that winds through Adams County, Pennsylvania, when a car sped around a curve. The car drifted into the middle of the road, and even though my father swerved, he wasn’t quick enough. The car slid against the entire length of his truck, shattering the driver’s side window and rippling the entire side so that it looked like a crumpled paper bag. I was sitting between my parents holding a can of Dr. Pepper, which didn’t spill at all. Still, my mom took the can from me after we stopped and poured it on the ground. “There might be glass in it now,” she told me.
We were all fine, but the impact of the accident caused my father’s head to jerk forward and his mouth to collide with the steering wheel. There was no visible damage, and if I were him, I would have probably called myself lucky.
Even after the damage started to show years later, he was reluctant to go to the dentist, have the dentist pull the tooth, and then charge him thousands of dollars to construct a new one out of porcelain. He said it would be cheaper in Mexico, and since he needed to visit his mother anyway, he would wait. For years, he tried to avoid biting with the sensitive tooth. When he ate dinner, he would roll up his tortillas and clamp down on them with the right side of his mouth. Neither my mom nor I knew that the tooth was causing him any pain.
The night before my mom called me, she was watching television after dinner. My dad grilled steak that night, and it was tough. After dinner, he went to the bathroom. She thought he was shaving until she heard the scream, and when she made it into the bathroom, my dad stood still with blood dribbling down his chin and landing in heavy drops on the pale, blue sink. He looked into the mirror to inspect the gap in his mouth while still holding the offending tooth between his thumb and index finger. When I asked him why he did it, he said, “It hurt when I ate.”
My mom and I both told him to rinse his mouth out three times a day with warm salt water. We had both been through this before and knew what to do, but my dad didn’t listen. He said that he was okay, that it didn’t hurt anymore.
Had he gone to the dentist, he would have likely been told that the tooth he had been so desperately trying to keep despite the discomfort it caused him wasn’t just a front tooth. It was called number nine, it had a purpose, and it should be missed.
The first time I saw my father without his front tooth was only three days after number nineteen had been reconstructed with silver amalgam. When he smiled at me in the airport, I could see his tongue. My mom told me that he spent the first few days after it was gone holding his hand over his mouth when he talked or smiled. By the time I saw him, he acted like the tooth had never been there in the first place. His mourning period was over. He had accepted his loss and was in no hurry to find a replacement for number nine.
My father has always been a handsome man. In his old driver’s license, which I carry with me in my wallet, he is thirty-one. His skin is the color of tanned leather from working outdoors all year long, and his hair is full and black. His moustache, goatee, and eyes are all black, too. He has always had a moustache, though in this picture it is a thick handlebar connecting to the goatee. Over the years, his moustache transformed into a neatly trimmed border that frames his upper lip, and the beard disappeared, never to be seen again. Like his sideburns, the moustache now has streaks of gray in it sometimes. (Occasionally, he says, “I need to paint it,” and goes out to buy Just For Men moustache and beard dye.) There are wrinkles in the corners of his eyes now, and his hair has been thinning for years. Still, he doesn’t look old yet.
In the driver’s license picture, he might look mysterious if he weren’t smiling so that you could see his teeth. His teeth were perfect—straight and white without any gaps—until number nine started showing signs that something, somewhere, had gone wrong. It looked nicotine-stained while all of its partners were still white and healthy. The discolored tooth did not diminish my father’s good looks, but the gaping hole made him seem incomplete.
My mother is also missing a front tooth, though hers is on the bottom and doesn’t show when she smiles. She went to Georgia to visit my grandparents once and came back without it. I was in high school at the time, and I kept asking her how it happened. The hole haunted me, but she wouldn’t explain. “I fell down” was all she said. She didn’t seem to mind because she had never had nice teeth. She started smoking when she was thirteen, and by the time I came along, they were already beginning to yellow. After a while, I barely noticed the gap. But I did notice how, three years after she lost it, she gained weight and could never get it off.
My mother was thin for only a year of her life. She was twenty-two, and she got that way by eating nothing but canned soup. No breakfast, no lunch. Just soup for dinner. By the time she met my father, she had gained the weight back. She wasn’t fat, exactly, but voluptuous with hair that appeared blonder on the ends than it was around the roots, the result of years spent using home hair-dyeing kits. She had long, red fingernails and wore too much makeup. I don’t know if my father thought she was beautiful. In all of the pictures I have seen of the two of them before I was born, she has a round face, and she looks shocked—at what, I don’t know, but it might be her luck at finding this handsome man who didn’t beat her like the two husbands she had before.
Or perhaps that wasn’t it at all. Maybe she surprised herself with her own courage—the courage that it took for her to say yes when my dad walked into the bar where she was working one night and said to her, “Apple season starts next week. I’m leaving for Pennsylvania tonight. Are you coming?” She had known him only for a few weeks, and she didn’t like him in the beginning. He was cocky, she said. The first night he came to the bar, he had a broken leg. That same night, he got into a fight and won. Later, he asked her for a free beer. She didn’t give it to him that night, but eventually they were friends, and she did. When he asked her to leave with him, she didn’t think. She just said yes and went back to the trailer where she was staying to pack her things and left the South forever with this Mexican man she knew her mother would never accept.
They drove to Pennsylvania in the car that she had stolen from her second husband not long before. She had been afraid he would kill her, and one night when she thought that he might, she managed to get out of the house and into the car. She drove the forty miles from Bainbridge, Georgia, to some town just across the Florida state line where she had a friend who had a trailer. When my parents got to Pennsylvania, my mom drove that car to a junkyard fifteen miles away. She sold the car for scrap metal and hitchhiked home.
When I think of her this way, she is beautiful to me. The missing tooth; the papery skin that looks so much older than its fifty years; the thick, yellow fingernails that are never painted red anymore—all of this is beautiful because this is what is left of the fearless, unpredictable woman who raised me. These are the marks that remind me of what she has lost, what we have both lost, and only in their presence can I remember her completely.
Now, she cries too much. Her kidneys are failing, her arteries are hardening, and she retains so much fluid that her weight can easily fluctuate fifty pounds in one week. She doesn’t drive if she can help it because she doesn’t trust her sight, or her hands, or her lungs. She asks for help to do the simplest things—clip her toenails or take off her socks. I call home almost every day to hear her voice, and when she doesn’t pick up, my body goes cold. I leave a message, and when she calls back, I can breathe. “Hey, baby,” she always says.
Before Dr. Hohlen began to reconstruct number nineteen, he explained that the tooth is a living structure. The pulp contains blood vessels that supply the tooth with nutrients and nerves that allow it to sense hot and cold. The pulp also contains lymph vessels that have the responsibility of carrying white blood cells to the tooth to help it fight off bacteria. Each tooth is independently alive and has its own private system that helps it survive. Unfortunately, each tooth also has to contend with its owner, who has all the power over how it lives or dies.
The acts that can preserve the tooth are so simple and take up an inconsequential portion of the day: brushing carefully so that the bristles of the toothbrush scour the entire surface of each tooth, flossing to dislodge the crumbs that get trapped in between them, and finally rinsing with mouthwash to kill the bacteria. The whole process takes five minutes, but the winding of floss around fingers seems so tedious, and it’s easy to miss the backside of the rear molars. Small mistakes that accumulate over time and add up to a loss that we can never forget.
“As part of our rulemaking process to implement sales tax rules for in-state and out-of-state retailers, we have heard from legislators and the business community, and the Department of Revenue agrees it is important for the state to take the time to get this right,” Department of Revenue chief Mike Hartman wrote in a statement.
Colorado businesses and those selling to Colorado customers were supposed to begin collecting sales taxes on Dec. 1. The state set a new deadline of March 31, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in South Dakota v. Wayfair. In that case, the court found a state can require retailers to collect and remit sales taxes, regardless of whether they have a physical presence there, so long as the state does not put an excessive burden on interstate businesses.
Colorado’s sales-tax system, with its patchwork of tax-collecting districts, is famously troublesome.
Tony Gagliardi, Colorado state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, small businesses “will not breathe a big sigh of relief until they see what lies ahead in the coming months.
“Rightfully, the department has decided to slow down, but not before causing a collective anxiety in a state that already has a mess of a sales tax structure with more than 700 taxing entities,” he wrote in a statement.
He added: “Simplifying and harmonizing its sales tax structure is Colorado’s biggest public policy challenge by far.”
The Revenue Department still is encouraging businesses that have the ability to collect and remit taxes collected on online purchases to do so, even in advance of the May 31 enforcement deadline.
The battle between a West Slope rural electric cooperative and one of the largest power wholesales in the West has tumbled into the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
The Delta-Montrose Electric Association, stymied in its efforts to quit its contract with power supplier Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, has filed a complaint with the PUC asking it to “adjudicate” an exit fee.
DMEA and Tri-State have been in negotiations over an exit fee for about two years but have been far apart as Tri-State has set a very high figure, DMEA CEO Jason Bronec said. “Their practices and posture have been discriminatory and unfair.”
sparred with Tri-State for nearly a decade as the co-op saw rates rise 56
percent since 2005 and the wholesaler tried to block local renewable energy
projects because its contract requires members to get 95 percent of their
electricity from the association.
of generation is an economic development issue, an environmental issue and a
way to blunt the impact of high rates, Bronec said.
Tri-State is the wholesale power supplier for electric cooperatives in four
western states, including 18 co-ops in Colorado.
Tri-State representatives have said that the association has made investments in plants and lines in anticipation of servicing its long-term contracts and in fairness to the remaining members, a departing co-op needs to cover some of those costs.
“We are disappointed that DMEA has decided to attempt to litigate this matter rather than negotiate their withdrawal,” Lee Boughey, a spokesman for Westminster-based Tri-State, wrote in an email. “Tri-State continues to believe that negotiations on withdrawal are far preferable to litigating this matter. Tri-State has not seen a copy of the DMEA complaint and cannot comment further at this time.”
In 2016, the Kit Carson Electric
Cooperative, in Taos, N.M., became the first co-op to buy its way out of
Tri-State as it sought to add more renewable energy. Its exit fee was $37
“Our overall sales are one-and-a-half times Kit Carson’s, but our buy-out number was magnitudes higher than Kit Carson’s,” Bronec said. The exact number is cloaked in a non-disclosure agreement.
DMEA asked Tri-State for the details on how it arrived at the Kit Carson exit fee, Bronec said. When Tri-State refused, DMEA filed a complaint with the Tri-State board seeking the information. The board backed management.
to the PUC arguing that this is a rate issue, since any exit fee would be paid
“Under Colorado public utilities law,
the PUC has legal responsibility to ensure that public utility rates and
charges are just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory,” the cooperative said in a
The co-op wants the PUC to set-up a hearing to set an exit fee. “We need some regulatory intervention on behalf of our ratepayers,”Bronec said.
Bronec said there is some precedent as
three rural cooperatives — La Plata Electric Association, White River Electric
Association and Empire Electric Association — in 2013 filed with the PUC for
rate relief from Tri-State. That complaint was settled without PUC action.
When Kit Carson left Tri-State,
Miami-based Guzman Energy, who became the city’s power supplier, provided the
$37 million exit fee, which it is recouping in rates for the first five years
of a 10-year contract. The co-op estimates it will save $70 million over the
life of that contract compared to Tri-State rates.
DMEA said it too will partner with
Guzman Energy if it is successful in leaving Tri-State.
Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton on Thursday introduced the latest version of a so-called “good Samaritan” bill to address abandoned, leaking mines in the U.S. with hopes of breaking roughly two decades of congressional gridlock on the topic.
With just weeks left before the end of the year, the legislation offered by the two Republicans has a near-impossible path toward passage, but is meant to set the table for broader conversations in 2019.
The bill would let environmental and conservation groups prove the good Samaritan concept by working with the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up 15 abandoned mines, most of which are leaking toxic waste.
The measure is called good Samaritan legislation because those good-will groups would be exempt from strict clean-water standards that typically come with addressing historic mining sites, Those rules currently keep do-gooder groups from completing remediation work.
“Across Colorado and the West we have needed a permanent solution to the dangerous problem of abandoned mines,” Gardner said in a written statement. “The opportunity to clean up the environment around these sites is crucial and this pilot program will finally allow for the long overdue process to begin.”
Gardner said he understands changes to the bill might be necessary and that he looks “forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders to evaluate their feedback.”
A sign of likely future holdup is lack of a Democratic sponsor on the legislation — namely Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who has also been pushing for a good Samaritan bill. Bennet and Gardner worked on a draft version of a similar bill in 2016.
“Abandoned mines across Colorado and the West need to be cleaned up,” Bennet told The Colorado Sun in a statement. “We are willing to work with anyone to pass good Samaritan legislation with appropriate environmental safeguards. We have a strong history of working together in our delegation and have made a lot of progress on a bipartisan and comprehensive solution to address this issue. We should restart the conversation in that spirit.”
Also, environmental groups are leery of this type of legislation because they worry it could create more pollution and would not do enough to solve the enormously complex issue of abandoned mines.
“The American West is littered with approximately 500,000 abandoned mines that shackle taxpayers with an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated $50 billion in costs,” Lauren Pagel, policy director for the environmental group Earthworks, said in a statement Thursday. “Good Samaritans, no matter their intentions, lack the resources to dent a problem of this scale. And this bill does nothing to address disasters like Gold King.”
The 2015 Gold King mine spill in southwest Colorado rekindled interest in good Samaritan legislation. However, Congress has been unable to reach an agreement on how to clean up abandoned mines without sacrificing environmental protections.
Groups like Earthworks want to see changes made to the nation’s 1872 Mining Law, specifically some kind of mechanism where current mining companies can pay into a fund dedicated toward abandoned mine cleanup.
Gardner and Tipton’s bill would bar any mining companies from working on sites they previously owned or operated. It would, however, allow those companies to clean up other abandoned mines.
The legislation bars so-called “re-mining” — or resuming mining activity at a site that’s being cleaned up — though it would allow groups to reprocess waste at a site to defray the cost of cleanup and help the EPA pay for overseeing the program.
Environmental groups also fear that good Samaritan legislation would allow companies to mine for profit without facing environmental regulations. The re-mining and cleanup-cost offset provisions in the new bill aim to address those anxieties.
“There are many Good Samaritan groups that have the technical expertise, financial ability and desire to conduct successful remediation at abandoned mines, but they are discouraged from taking on projects due to current regulations,” Tipton said in a statement.
Conservation group Trout Unlimited, which has been working with Gardner on the bill, has endorsed the legislation, as has the mining industry.
The bill’s formal name is the Good Samaritan Remediation of Orphaned Hardrock Mines Act of 2018.
Colorado oil and gas regulators are considering enlarging the mandatory buffer zone between new wells and school property.
A proposal released by the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission late Wednesday afternoon would require new wells to be at least 1,000 feet (305 meters) from buildings as well as outdoor areas that schools use, such as playgrounds and athletic fields.
Current rules require the same size buffer zone but measure it from school buildings, not outdoor areas. That allows wells to be closer to playgrounds and similar facilities.
Regulators could still allow wells closer if areas outside the buffer zone are deemed to be technically infeasible or economically impractical. School officials could also agree to allow wells within the buffer zone.
The rule would apply to future facilities as well as existing ones if schools plan to have them in place within three years.
In written comments, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group, said it supported the new rules but asked for changes.
The association said the rules should make it clear that the expanded buffer zone does not apply to non-school facilities that are sometimes used for school activities, such as municipal tennis courts, golf courses and baseball fields.
The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will consider the rule at a hearing Dec. 17 and 18.
The hearing will be held just six weeks after Colorado voters defeated a measure that would have required a buffer zone of 2,500 feet (750 meters) from occupied buildings and what the measure called vulnerable areas such as parks, creeks and irrigation canals.
By Nicholas Riccardi and James Anderson, The Associated Press
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and his allies are taking new steps toward launching a presidential campaign, including interviews with dozens of potential staffers and hiring a pollster and national fundraiser, according to a person close to the Democrat.
He’s already launched a political action committee that allows him to raise money nationally and hired his 2014 campaign manager, Brad Komar, to run it. Since the PAC was formed in September, Komar has done 80 interviews with possible campaign staffers, the person said. Of those, Hickenlooper has conducted or participated in 30 interviews. The operation has hired Democratic veteran Anna Greenberg as its pollster and FK & Co. as national fundraisers; it raises money for Democratic senators including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Hickenlooper isn’t expected to make a formal decision on running for president until his term ends on Jan. 8. The person close to the governor requested anonymity because Hickenlooper hasn’t yet formally launched his campaign.
The moves come as potential presidential contenders step up efforts to get their campaign infrastructures into place. With as many as two dozen possible candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, there is a fierce competition playing out for talent.
Hickenlooper’s second term in Colorado has been consumed with speculation over a potential presidential run. But he has sounded less ambiguous in recent days.
“We’re beyond mulling,” Hickenlooper said in an interview this week. “I think we’re engaging people I’ve known and trusted and understand some of the subtleties around running for the highest office.”
Hickenlooper traveled to battleground states like Florida and Georgia during the final weeks of the midterm elections campaign, as well as the key early voting duo of Iowa and New Hampshire to test his expected 2020 message.
At one point he flatly told a New Hampshire waitress he was running for president, only to have to add minutes later that he hadn’t formally made a decision and note there were legal issues to saying he was a candidate. It was a typical moment for a notoriously unscripted politician who often quips there’s “no more than five feet between myself and disaster.”
His bid would rely on his unorthodox story and quirky personality to cut through the clutter of a packed Democratic presidential primary field.
“I don’t think anybody else who’s being talked about has been a mayor and a governor and an entrepreneur — not to mention a brewer,” Hickenlooper said in the interview.
Hickenlooper was a laid-off oil geologist who struck it rich founding a brewpub in downtown Denver. He parlayed that into a successful run first for Denver mayor and then governor. In his campaigns, Hickenlooper held himself out as a nonpartisan pragmatist who wouldn’t run negative ads, instead featuring spots that showed him feeding quarters into overpriced parking meters or jumping out of a plane to promote a ballot measure that expanded the state budget.
But there are obvious challenges for an avowedly nonpartisan candidate who spent much of his political career winning the support of Colorado’s Republican business leaders. Despite implementing limits on methane and automobile emissions, Hickenlooper has frustrated some environmentalists with his defense of hydraulic fracturing and the energy industry in general, positions which may put him in a tough spot with a national Democratic primary electorate increasingly agitated about climate change.
His no-negative style of campaigning may be jarring for parts of the primary electorate that yearn for a more aggressive candidate to take on President Donald Trump. His base in Colorado allows him to make a pitch as someone who can speak to the heartland, but it means he’s distant from the financial centers of Democratic fundraising on the coasts. And though he has several locally high-profile African-American backers in Colorado, he has limited ties to black voters, a key slice of the Democratic primary electorate.
Still, Hickenlooper’s record in swing-state Colorado was appealing enough to land him on Hillary Clinton’s final list of potential running mates in 2016. And his folksy demeanor and unpolished manner may play well in the era of Trump.
“That careful staging, carefully managing to be politically correct and never say anything wrong — that’s changed and made it possible for someone like Hickenlooper to shine,” said Alan Salazar, a former Hickenlooper aide and veteran Democratic operative in Colorado.
Hickenlooper’s moves come as his former chief of staff from City Hall, Sen. Michael Bennet, has started to mull his own bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Bennet and Hickenlooper are still close and advisers to both men insist there’s room for two possible Democratic candidates from Colorado.
Bennet called Hickenlooper this summer as both were mulling a presidential run, as first reported in the Colorado Sun’s politics newsletter, The Unaffiliated.
“We talked last summer, and he said he was just thinking about it and turning it over,” the term-limited governor told The Sun on Tuesday.
Even if there is a rivalry, Hickenlooper touted Bennet. “Michael Bennet is one of the smartest people I know,” Hickenlooper said. “And he’s a dedicated, hardworking public servant. It would be a fool’s errand to try and limit the field or tell people it’s too crowded or whatever.”
So who’s the better candidate? “Let’s say we are both different,” Hickenlooper said with a laugh.
Any campaign will rely heavily on Hickenlooper’s record in Colorado, which became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana under his watch, although he opposed the ballot measure permitting that step. It would be based in Denver and sell him as a solution-oriented Democrat who can attract support of all stripes while achieving key liberal goals like expanding Medicaid and gay rights.
“A lot of it will come down to how well we can articulate our vision of making America a place where we fulfill our role on the world stage where every human, every person in the country, has an equal shot, a fair shot at creating their own American dream,” Hickenlooper said. “That kind of stuff, there’s a certain amount of poetry to it — and I’m not much of a poet, but if there wasn’t stuff to be learned, how much fun would it be?”
Colorado Sun staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.
TELLER COUNTY — Until Colorado water authorities announced a plan to cap it and locals started a petition drive to save it, the little spring at Gillette Flats never inspired much reflection.
No one knows when someone first stuck a pipe in the ground to tap the water burbling up a few miles north of Cripple Creek. No one knows who pulled up a stock tank to capture it.
But the spring over the years became just another part of the local landscape — as free to enjoy as the county’s soaring views of Pikes Peak.
Then, amid a severe drought this year and worries of even worse water shortages in the future, the state in September declared that the spring is illegal. It would have to be shut down.
“No one really has stepped forward with evidence that there ever was a permit or decree for it,” said Bill Tyner, the division engineer for Colorado’s Water Division 2, which covers the Arkansas River basin. “We’ve got dozens, if not hundreds, of people who claim they’ve used water from the well but no one who has stepped forward and said, ‘That’s mine; I own that.’”
The ensuing fight over the Gillette Flats spring shows what happens when the state’s historic laws for apportioning water crash head-on into community sentiment over what it means to live in Colorado.
To officials at Colorado’s Division of Water Resources, the debate over the spring is not a close call. The spring sits just off Colorado 67 on land owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation — which doesn’t want responsibility for it. The owner of the surrounding land says it’s not his.
The state doles out water based on an orderly queue of rights. So, to state regulators, taking water you don’t have a right to isn’t just cutting in line, it’s like skipping the line and breaking in through a back door.
But, to locals, capping the spring is akin to shuttering part of their community. People depend on the water from the spring, they say. But their arguments for keeping it open also spiral into broader concerns, over the rising cost of living and increased crowding and a looming sense that the Colorado they grew up in — or moved to — is vanishing.
“It’s taking away the ambiance of what Colorado is,” said Wendy Lee Sobisky, who lives in the nearby town of Victor and is leading the campaign to keep the spring open. “I didn’t come here from California to see it look like California.”
And this fight is being waged over a relatively small amount of water.
Tyner estimated that the spring produces no more than 15 gallons of water a minute — about the same as a good-producing residential well. The majority of that, though, likely overflows the stock tank and soaks back into the ground, returning to the water supply. Some gets flushed down drains or toilets, going back to streams via water treatment systems. All told, Teller County residents and visitors might be consuming only an acre-foot of water a year from the spring — in a state that measures its total downstream obligations in millions of acre-feet.
For a long time, it was little enough that the state turned a blind eye. But Tyner said a 2017 article in the Colorado Springs Gazette showed that some locals had begun using the spring as an alternative to drilling their own wells or buying water from a supplier. (The Gazette was also the first to report earlier this year on the spring’s planned closure.)
There was sometimes a line at the spring. People brought huge tanks and used motorized pumps to fill up.
“Hauling water away for domestic use, that’s the use that starts to consume water and take it out of the system,” he said.
The fact that Colorado was in a drought year only heightened the stakes. Tyner said there are plenty of permitted water rights owners in the Arkansas basin who got no water this year because those with more senior rights took all that was available. Though it wasn’t a huge amount of water, the Gillette Flats spring likely took a little bit more from those playing by the rules, Tyner said.
So the state made an announcement: The spring would be capped.
And that’s when the fight really began.
Inside the historic Florissant Grange hall, two dozen people in the audience stared forward with incredulous expressions.
Before them, Tyner and two other district water officials tried to explain the decision to cap the spring.
“As citizens of Colorado,” he said at the meeting, which took place in late October, “if you want to have water for your homes, it’s probably going to cost you something. You’ve had a unique system where it didn’t cost you as much. But people in Colorado have to pay for water.”
The crowd grew increasingly restless.
Audience members accused the state of trying to strong-arm the poor. They accused local water districts of greed because capping the spring could bring in new customers.
Told that it would cost people tens of thousands of dollars each to drill new domestic wells at their homes, one woman asked: “How do you expect people to fork over the cost of a new car just to get water when they can get it now for free?”
To Tyner’s explanation of the water rights system, a man asked: “Why do we think that all of Denver owns all of our water and all of Colorado Springs owns the rest of the water?”
The voices in the Grange echoed much of the public outcry over the spring’s planned closure.
After Sobisky started an online petition to keep the spring open, more than 3,000 people signed their names to it. In comments on the petition site, people wrote about childhood visits to the spring or the need to preserve a free water source for the poor. They lamented what they believe Colorado is becoming.
“Water is sacred,” one woman wrote.
And, back in the Grange hall, Sobisky tended to agree.
“I know Colorado has this whole water rights thing going on with legal beagles,” she said. “But I just don’t understand it. It’s a natural spring.”
One agreement did come out of the meeting: A potential way to preserve the spring, legally.
An initial shutdown date in November has already been pushed back to April. But Tyner told the crowd that, if they could come up with a plan to replace the water they take from the spring, the state could issue the spring a permit and bring it permanently into the water rights system.
It wouldn’t be easy. Such plans — called augmentation plans — require detailed research, a good chunk of money to buy replacement water rights elsewhere and lots of work in water court.
Sobisky has created a new Facebook group and begun, with others, conducting surveys out at the spring. She needs to know how many people are using water from the spring, how much they’re taking, where they’re taking it and what they’re using it for. Likely more than $30,000 needs to be raised.
But she’s optimistic — and a little chastened.
“I do get the reasons of augmentation, because the people living in lower elevations south from the spring do need all they can get,” she wrote on the Facebook group’s page shortly after the meeting. “When word first got out, reactions spoke for themselves including my own. At the moment of shock, we just don’t take others into consideration right off the bat and now, my heart pours out for these people.”
The group has also picked up a newly powerful ally. Incoming state Rep. Mark Baisley, a Republican, attended the meeting in Florissant when he was still just a candidate and vowed to help with the augmentation plan as best he can — as long as everyone works together.
“It’s an issue that evokes some feelings,” he said then. “Water is life.”
Five years have passed since Pueblo voters ousted Democratic state Sen. Angela Giron in a recall election.
Yet her campaign committee, Friends of Angela Giron, still owes $192,500 in overdue fines for not filing timely finance reports with the Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, records show.
Her committee is one of more than 1,000 in Colorado that racked up $2.4 million in automatic fines for late filings with the state since Jan. 1, 2017, according to a Colorado Sun analysis. Only $143,375 of those fines have been paid to date.
In most cases, the committees are inactive and don’t realize they must officially terminate the accounts or continue to file campaign finance reports. When they don’t, automatic fines are assessed and begin to accumulate.
Election officials struggle to collect the fines and often waive significant sums to settle outstanding legal violations.
“A lot of the groups that are small and maybe just popped up, they often immediately close their bank account,” Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert said.
The repayment rate for the 2018 election is lower than the previous two-year cycle. In the 2016 election cycle, the state assessed $2.8 million in automatic fines and received $240,410.
Giron said she didn’t realize she’d accumulated so many fines until a reporter from The Sun called to ask about them. But the secretary of state’s website indicates she’s received about 90 letters about the fines since Jan. 1, 2016.
To close her campaign, she said she donated the $10,000 left in her account to the now-defunct Colorado Progressive Coalition in 2013. Campaign finance records, however, don’t reflect that donation.
Instead, they indicate that $22,611 was left in her account, according to an April 2016 report filed nearly two months late. It’s the last report that Giron — who is listed as the contact for her committee — filed with the state.
Giron said she takes responsibility for the failure to address the outstanding fines, and expects to pay some portion of them. “I’m working with the secretary of state to get that resolved,” she told The Sun.
Collecting overdue fines is difficult under current law
In another instance, three smalldonorcommittees listing conservative political strategist Mark Hotaling as their agent all were renamed to include the word “decommissioning” and an explanation was added to their listed purpose stating that they were no longer considered active.
But in the official record, they’re still listed as active, and have amassed a combined $200,550 in fines. Hotaling didn’t respond to phone or email messages seeking explanation.
“Once they get a fine, we work with them to close the committee,” Staiert said. “We do everything we can to get inactive committees off the books.”
That includes talking people through the process of terminating a committee if necessary.
In fact, recent regulations allow the secretary of state to automatically close down a committee after 18 months or six reporting periods with no activity, whichever occurs first. However, fines would still need to be paid or appealed.
The job of collecting overdue fines from non-candidate committees can be difficult, Staiert said.
“The only people who are personally liable for their campaign finance fines are the candidates,” she said. “The political committees — we don’t really have anybody we can go after for those.”
Secretary of State officials often waive fines for violations
In other cases, some political committees request — and often receive — waivers or reductions in fines.
For example, Americans for Prosperity, a conservative nonprofit, formed an independent spending committee in August to support three Republican candidates. But the group failed to file required reports of independent spending within 48 hours of when the expenses were made. Instead, AFP filed the reports for spending between Oct. 10 and Oct. 23 on Nov. 1.
The group was fined $4,600, but applied for a waiver and the Republican secretary of state reduced the penalty to $400.
On Tuesday, Staiert and other elections officials reviewed 28 pages of recommendations on applications for fine waivers. It took less than 10 minutes to approve the recommendations with one minor change.
Among the fines waived: More than $22,000 assessed to Jonathan Lynch for his short-lived 2014 campaign for Yuma County sheriff.
Like many others seeking waivers, Lynch explained to the secretary of state officials that he thought he’d terminated his committee.
Meanwhile, the largest fine paid this year – without a waiver – is $21,000 by the Carter & Burgess Inc. Colorado PAC.
That PAC hasn’t been active since 2006, when it spent $1,000. And Jacobs Engineering Group purchased Carter & Burgess in 2007, so the company no longer exists under its former name. But according to Secretary of State filings, the PAC still has $5,000 in its account to “support pro-business candidates.”
The Cherry Hills Village Democrat did not provide a reason for stepping down from his seat two years into his four-year term. The accusations that he misused a restroom were made during the last legislative session.
The Cherry Hills Village Democrat did not provide a reason for stepping down from his seat two years into his four-year term.
“It’s been a great honor to serve the people of Colorado for just short of a decade,” he said in a written statement. “An important obligation of leaders, I believe, is to be open to acknowledging that it’s time to pass the torch to new leadership and, for me, that time is now. I am comfortable with my decision, largely because I know that we have no shortage of individuals in Arapahoe County who would do a superb job of representing the people of Senate District 26.”
Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, and other state Senate Republicans accused Kagan of repeatedly using a women’s bathroom reserved for lawmakers and staff just outside of the Senate chambers during the 2017 legislative session. That was Kagan’s first year in the Senate after serving in the House.
Kagan said he used the restroom only once, calling it an embarrassing mistake made while he was feeling unwell. He also said he was unfamiliar with which restroom was the men’s and women’s because they are unmarked.
However a third-party investigator in a report released in September found he used the women’s restroom in three instances, according to CBS4.
Kagan will formally step down on Jan. 11. The legislative session begins on Jan. 4.
A voicemail left for Kagan by The Colorado Sun on Wednesday evening was not immediately returned.
A spokesman for Senate Democrats said the caucus is confident there will be time to convene a vacancy committee to pick a replacement for Kagan before the session starts.
State Rep. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, has already announced his intention to seek Kagan’s seat. Bridges was elected the House Democrat co-whip for the upcoming session.
Kagan is one of three Democrats who are leaving the Senate in the middle of their terms. The two others, Matt Jones and John Kefalas, are vacating their seats to become county commissioners in Boulder and Larimer counties respectively.
Democrats will control the state Senate when the legislature reconvenes.
I should have written this newsletter last night, but wanted to wait to hear what was said at the funeral of President George H.W. Bush. Since he died Friday at age 94, I have been wracking my brain for a feeling — any feeling — about his presidency. There has been nattering around the office about this misstep or that during his one-term presidency. And I laughed to tears when Saturday Night Live paid tribute to him by replaying hilarious Dana Carvey impressions and Bush’s equally funny response. But my feeling for the man is just neutral.
Sure, I can remember sitting head between my knees in the locker room during grad school, worried that Scud missiles flying around the Middle East during the Gulf War were going to kill my best friend, who was living in Jerusalem. But beyond that, nothing. And I think that is a good thing. His presidency is marked by a sense of service and diplomacy, work done in the service of the nation, not in service to self. His idea of a “thousand points of light” was made fun of when he uttered it during his 1988 run for president. He intended to shine light on the power of community and religious organizations, and that’s what I’m thinking about this morning. In particular, I’m reflecting on a letter he wrote a decade later to further explain himself:
“Some of my happiness still comes from trying to be in my own small way a true ‘point of light,’” Bush wrote. “I believe I was right when I said, as president, there can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others. So I do that now, and I gain happiness.”Alright. Let’s light that light!
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How bad is trying to sign up for health insurance here? Not as bad as in the rest of the U.S.
If you’re buying medical insurance on Connect for Health Colorado, and you want to be covered on Jan. 1, you need get in there by Dec. 15. And it turns out a lot of people are opting for coverage through the exchange even as numbers dwindle nationally. About 15 percent of those signing up in Colorado are new customers. John Ingold explains why we’re bucking the trend — at least for now.
You bring the bobsled track, we’ll handle the downhill
Sometimes a big, important family party is too much for one person to handle, so attendees are asked to bring a dish, or maybe help set the table or do the dishes, right? The 36-member Denver and Colorado Olympic and Paralympic Exploratory Committee has come up with the functional equivalent, proposing that Colorado co-host the 2030 Winter Games with cities that already have expensive venues, like a bobsled track. Former Gov. Dick Lamm told Jason Blevins he still thinks Coloradans should vote on the matter.
Hick’s Hail Mary to solve our Gallagher tax problem failed. Now what?
I think everyone understood that Gov. John Hickenlooper’s request that the state Supreme Court solve our Gallagher Amendment tax problem was a long shot. So what are we going to do now to solve the looming budget crisis that this fall led more than 100 special districts anticipating budget cuts because of the state tax mess to directly ask voters to fund fire departments, schools, hospitals and library districts? Brian Eason talked to a ton of people and it looks like there are maybe five possible routes the legislature could take to solve the problem. Will they work? Well, that’s another issue.
Xcel cites climate change, promises zero carbon emissions by 2050
In case you missed it yesterday, Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, pledged to reduce the amount of carbon emitted during electricity generation by 80 percent by 2030 and to zero by 2050. Yes, yes, the zero carbon emissions goal is aspirational. Oh, and as Jesse Paul reports, we might be needing to get comfortable with nuclear power again.
Please fill out this survey to help shape the future of The Colorado Sun. The survey will be available throughout this week and shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes of your time. We really want to hear from you (yes, you!) and we hope you’ll take a moment to give us your input.
Your Thing for Today
The Thing: “Civil / Wild #1 The Vulture Trees,” by Sue Ring deRosset, illustrated by Jessica Owings Crouch
Why You Might Like It: A beautiful essay by naturalist Sue Ring deRosset memorializing the tragic beauty of turkey vultures and lamenting the loss of massive trees that once drew them to her Fort Collins neighborhood. Originally published in Matterhorn journal a few years ago, the writing has been reprinted as a chapbook illustrated with linocut prints by Jessica Owings Crouch. Wolverine Farm — a publishing house and creative space where classes are taught for all kinds of makers — has packaged the book with a half-dozen postcards of Crouch’s linocuts printed on the farm’s Vandercook SP15 letterpress. The book is numbered as though there is a Civil / Wild series afoot. Here’s hoping so. ($12 at wolverinefarm.org or off the shelf at The Emporium at The Elizabeth Hotel in Old Town Fort Collins.)
Editor’s note: Every Sunriser will include one … thing … to cap off our time together. The Thing will be just about anything, like a TV show or a book or a particularly cool dog toy.
That’s all from the Northern Colorado Sunriser bureau. We’ll be back in your email box on Friday with another puny pretender standing in for Lubbers while he’s off getting tan, fit and ready for the new year.
In the meantime, have a great today and tomorrow, and don’t forget to tell everyone you know to read every story ever published by The Colorado Sun.
With Winter Olympics host cities falling like snowflakes, Colorado’s bid to stage the 2030 Winter Olympics hinges on national and international Olympic organizers embracing a new hosting model that would split events between different states, including a scenario that has Colorado and Utah co-hosting the 2030 Winter Games.
For Colorado to win support from the U.S. Olympic Committee and beat out Utah, the only other North American city still vying to host the 2030 Winter Games, boosters are hoping U.S. and international Olympic organizers see a need for a radical shift in how cities fund and stage the 17-day event — so radical that they would support the games being held in venues hundreds of miles from Utah where all the events are planned within a short trip of Salt Lake City.
“We personally believe the Olympic movement is at a tipping point where the time is right for this kind of dialogue and discussion,” said Rob Cohen, the chairman of the 36-member Denver and Colorado Olympic and Paralympic Exploratory Committee. The committee in June issued a 231-page report on how Colorado could host a Winter Olympics.
The Colorado committee’s pitch for the Winter Olympics relies heavily on other states stepping in to host sliding events — like luge, bobsled and skeleton. Building a pricey sliding track would blow up the Colorado plan to throw a privately funded Olympics with no permanent venues. To play host, Colorado would need to partner with communities hundreds of miles away that already have sled tracks, such as Park City, Utah, and Lake Placid, New York, or even locations in Canada.
The Olympic Park Track in Park City — site of the 2002 Winter Olympics — is an amenity that anchors Utah’s plan to host the 2030 games. And while Colorado has 13 of the needed 16 venues to host, Utah has all 16. That’s why Utah is widely considered the leading contender to win U.S. Olympic Committee support when the committee gathers Dec. 13 to make its host-city decision.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach on Saturday, in an interview with Around The Rings, said he will not award both the 2026 and 2030 games in the same announcement, as he did in 2017 when he awarded the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games. Bach said several locations are vying for the 2030 games and he wanted to “give all of them a fair chance.”
Cohen’s Olympic tipping point comes as potential cities bail from hosting contention. This spring, there were seven communities in the running to host the 2026 Winter Games, but now there are just two, with Italy proposing an Olympics spread across two cities and Stockholm planning to use a sliding complex in a neighboring country.
In the past three years, a surge of communities have pulled out of contention. Most recently, Olympic boosters in Nevada’s Reno and California’s Lake Tahoe region cut themselves, and voters in Calgary rejected a proposal for an Olympic repeat. Three years ago voters defeated an effort to bring the Summer Olympics to Boston. Recent efforts to bring the Winter Olympics to Turkey, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Austria and Poland have foundered.
By 2022, there will have been three consecutive Winter Olympics in Asia: Sochi in 2014; South Korea in 2018; and Beijing in 2022. The autocratic governments in Russia and China didn’t blink at dropping billions for the Olympics. Russia spent somewhere close to $51 billion on the Sochi Winter Olympics. China is razing entire mountains to create new ski resorts and building high-speed rail lines for its 2022 hosting, promising to bust its budget just as it did when it spent $40 million to host the 2008 Summer Games.
In response to Russia’s exorbitant spending — building essentially a Vail Valley in a mere half-decade, with multiple ski resorts and villages holding more than 19,000 rooms — the International Olympic Committee forged Agenda 2020 and the New Norm, a series of reforms prodding host cities to control costs by downsizing venues, changing transportation options and using existing facilities and infrastructure.
“We see this as a chance to completely change how we look at how the games are hosted and run,” Cohen said. “We relooked at everything. What we have been calling ‘the Colorado way’ would allow us to do it without building permanent venues, keeping it privately financed and without taxpayer guarantees, and with a community engagement process that is as inclusive and broad as we can be.”
The committee’s bid outlines plans to raise $566 million from corporate sponsors and what Cohen called a “sophisticated risk management program” of insurance policies to keep taxpayer money out of the equation. Without any new facilities, the Olympic Village could be anchored in existing hotels. If the community showed support, affordable housing units would be constructed in Denver and the mountains and used to house athletes during the 17-day Olympics, Cohen said.
“Our motto all along has been we should build no permanent infrastructure unless it’s permanent infrastructure that our community wants whether we were hosting the games or not,” Cohen said.
Organizers in California’s Lake Tahoe area also fretted their lack of Olympic jumping and sliding venues. Andy Wirth, a former executive at Steamboat ski area, was the chief at Squaw Valley – Alpine Meadows ski area and chairman of the Lake Tahoe Winter Games Exploratory Committee when he met with leaders of the national and international bobsled and skeleton federations. Wirth asked the governing bodies if they would use a new facility, should Tahoe raise the money to build one.
“The head of the international federation, his direct response was ‘We don’t need any more venues,’” Wirth said. “So regardless of who is paying for it, it clearly does not make sense to build one of these venues.”
So Olympic boosters around Lake Tahoe and Reno — who already planned to enlist Sacramento and even Las Vegas as event hosts — began to more closely study a bid that would, like Colorado’s plan, use another state’s bobsled, skeleton and luge facility. Stockholm, Sweden’s 2026 Winter Olympic bid includes a sliding venue in neighboring Latvia. But in the case of Sweden and Latvia, the two are not working as rivals with competing plans for hosting the games.
“Behind the scenes, everyone was talking about sharing with Utah. And the consistent refrain in response to that was ‘Why would Utah do that when they have full capabilities to stage the Olympics not only well, but incredibly well?’” Wirth said. “They have taken terrific care of their venues. They established foundations and endowments to not only care for their venues as they mature but keep them utilized by athletes and Utah residents. Give them credit … there is no question in my mind that the Winter Olympics should return to Utah.”
The Colorado exploratory committee is holding what it thinks could be a winning hand, with a promise of higher revenues for Olympic organizers. The plan calls for using both Mile High Stadium and Coors Field for opening and closing ceremonies, possibly connected by a parade between the venues. That would boost ticket sales for what would be a 40,000-person event to somewhere closer to 125,000. The committee expects the games to harvest $504 million in ticket sales with venue capacity exceeding sites in Utah, generating more revenue for the IOC, USOC and the national governing bodies.
“There are very good reasons to look at our bid and closely evaluate it,” Cohen said. “In Colorado, the infrastructure we have around the 13 venues is significant and creates greater revenue opportunities than maybe existing venues in other locations.”
The committee’s Olympic budget includes the cost of chartered transportation “running back and forth between certain cities and locations,” Cohen said, noting that many Olympics have involved moving spectators, athletes, media and staff hundreds of miles between venues.
Cohen said his committee has met with the IOC and USOC and shared every element of their plan. USOC members toured Utah and Denver last month.
“At every step of the process, we have been told this plan is in line with Agenda 2020 and the New Norm and to keep moving,” Cohen said.
Dick Lamm was a state legislator in 1972 when he famously led a movement that spurred voters to reject funding for the 1976 Winter Olympics. That’s the only time a host city has rejected the Olympics after they had been awarded. But it was a sign of a future when asking voters to decide on the Olympics rarely goes well for the Olympics.
Today, Lamm — who served as Colorado’s governor from 1975 to 1987 — is again backing an effort to ask residents to vote on a Colorado Olympic Games. Lamm said while he admires the committee’s imaginative efforts, and lauds Cohen as a civic leader “who passionately believes the Olympics will be good for Colorado,” he wants voters to make the final call.
“I do think the IOC and the USOC, they are snakebit for Denver and rightfully so. They should be cautious. But if the committee can persuade the Colorado public that this is a good idea, I think most everyone would swing behind it,” Lamm said. “But I do think, this proposal, if it’s not desperation than, well, I guess it is a desperation measure because they see this institution disappearing before their eyes. But I can’t imagine why they would want to come to Denver when they have Salt Lake.”
Cohen said the exploratory committee would not be doing its job if it wasn’t exploring how Colorado could revive a struggling Olympic movement. He thinks Colorado can show the world a financially stable, environmentally sustainable and cooperative way to stage an Olympics that could stem the attrition of cities eager to stage the games.
“There are aspects of our model that not only will benefit us, but will benefit every host. We think that instead of a constricting number of host cities that might be interested, that the pendulum could swing the other way,” Cohen said. “We are the very front edge of this kind of conversation. And it’s not easy to be on the front end of a wave change for something as big and important as the Olympics.”
The conventional wisdom about how health insurance enrollment across the country would go this year went something like this: B-R-U-T-A-L.
Major Trump administration changes took effect that were likely to diminish people’s interest in buying plans through an insurance exchange. High prices continued to bedevil consumers. And national numbers so far bear these fears out: About 350,000 fewer people have signed up for insurance through the federal HealthCare.gov portal this year compared to the same period last year.
That’s what makes Colorado’s sign-up totals so surprising. They’re up. Not by a lot, but not by a little, either.
So why has Colorado thus far escaped the national slump? There’s at least one big reason worth understanding.
First thing, we’re only talking about a small subset of the health insurance market here — people who don’t get insurance through an employer or through Medicare or Medicaid. This is the “individual” health insurance market, the people who buy plans on their own. It makes up about 8 percent of the total market in Colorado.
People in the individual market buy plans either through a health insurance broker or an online exchange. Most of the country uses the HealthCare.gov exchange, run by the federal government. Colorado is one of 12 states that runs its own exchange, free and clear of federal involvement. It’s called Connect for Health Colorado.
This all was created as a result of the Affordable Care Act, which also contained a mighty big hammer to drive health insurance sign-ups: It imposed a penalty on people without insurance. Last year, the penalty was $695 or 2.5 percent of your income, whichever was greater.
What Trump changed
The Trump Administration has been steadily whittling away at the Affordable Care Act — the law also known as Obamacare. It slashed funding for HealthCare.gov marketing and for organizations that help people sign up for coverage. It encouraged the use of short-term plans and other types of coverage not sold on the exchanges.
And, along with Republicans in Congress, it did away with the penalty for not having insurance. Starting in 2019, the fine is $0.
That last one could have been potentially significant for Colorado, where sky-high costs in some parts of the state provide ample incentive to skip coverage. But the penalty does appear to have been somewhat successful in nudging people to sign up, according to a recent Colorado Health Institute report. The report found that fewer Coloradans skipped having insurance as the penalty increased.
Why Colorado is different
Through November, consumers made 46,332 medical plan selections on Connect for Health Colorado — one plan selection, of course, can cover multiple people, such as a family. That’s nearly 6 percent more than the 43,881 plan selections made during November last year.
It’s too early to say whether it’s just an earlier crowd this year or if this represents real growth. But 15 percent of those signing up so far are new — not returning — customers.
Structurally, the main difference between Colorado and much of the rest of the country is that Colorado’s control over its own insurance exchange means it can largely opt out of the federal turmoil.
Connect for Health Colorado controls its own marketing and outreach budget, which it has been using for radio and social media ads and to support sign-up assistance centers. It made technical improvements to the website in the hopes of streamlining the sign-up process. It also found some extra money to help local organizations better serve their areas.
Kevin Patterson, Connect for Health’s CEO, gave an example of a health district in Larimer County. Because of its autonomy, Connect for Health was able to chip in some money to help the district reach out to consumers who live in the county but outside the health district’s boundaries — people who might otherwise not have gotten that kind of attention.
“I think it’s fair to say we’re able to target and market in a way that connects with our citizenry,” Patterson said.
Open enrollment runs through Jan. 15. But to have insurance that starts on Jan. 1, 2019, you must sign up by Dec. 15.
If you don’t sign up during open enrollment, you’ll have to wait until open enrollment starts again next fall. The only exceptions are if you have a major life event — such as you lose your job or you have a baby. Then you get a special enrollment window to buy coverage.
Colorado insurance officials this year used a regulatory technique that resulted in the lowest price increases for health insurance on the individual market in years. If you are eligible to receive a tax credit to help pay for premiums (go to connectforhealthco.com to figure out if you are), Patterson said it’s likely you will be able to find plans for $50 a month or less. But, since those plans could come with high deductibles, it’s best to shop around.
If you’re not eligible for a tax credit, using an insurance broker may help you make the best choice. Connect for Health can help you find one.
The administration came in with an agenda to break the deal and drastically undermine the 11 state sage-grouse management plans
Only a short time into Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s scandal-plagued tenure, Westerners had a hunch that the sage-grouse management plans that took nearly a decade to make — in a collaborative public process across 11 Western states — would be drastically altered to benefit the mining, oil and gas industries at the behest of a handful of special interests.
Western Values Project discovered that hunch was a reality after analyzing thousands of public documents and pages of correspondence from Interior’s political appointees on sage grouse.
Our research concluded that the administration was going to break the deal at the expense of not only the imperiled sage grouse and the 350 plus other species that rely on a healthy ecosystem, but every Western partner and community that worked to craft a hard-earned compromise to protect critical habitat while balancing multi-use principles and their livelihoods.
When the final management plans are released before the end of the year, it’s very likely oil, gas and mining special interests will be gifted nearly everything they requested.
The industry wish-list contained 15 specific requests, 13 of which were included in the initial draft plans, and nearly all of which will likely remain in part of the final plans in several states despite objections from many Western Governors and over half a million public comments that asked Interior to honor the original deal.
Special interest influence on revisions to the plans means that buffer-zones in breeding habitat areas will not need to be considered in many leasing decisions across several states. Surface occupancy footprints by industry in and around these areas will not need to be minimized, impacting many other species like mule deer.
Sagebrush Focal Areas, which protected some 8.7 million areas of critical habitat, were axed in many states, and now these areas are back on the table for industrial-scale development.
While one of the most important tools, compensatory mitigation — which requires industry to offset the damage they cause to public lands — has apparently become optional, at best, from the administration’s point of view.
This all adds up to an uncertain future for the bird, the herd, and the over $1 billion of outdoor economic activity in the sagebrush sea not to mention the businesses, ranchers and agricultural producers who would be severely impacted by an endangered species listing.
Only time and science will tell if the sage grouse can withstand this last westward push by greedy land barons and corrupt political officials.
The odds don’t look good, but one thing is sure: the deal was broken by this administration as some officials chose collusion with special interests over common-sense public collaboration.
Jayson O’Neill is the Deputy Director of Western Values Project, a Montana-based nonprofit that defends America’s public lands through research and public education in order to hold policymakers and elected leaders accountable for jeopardizing the West’s outdoor heritage. Twitter: @Western_Values
Now state lawmakers and the new Democratic governor, Jared Polis, will enter 2019 barreling toward yet another constitutional fiscal crisis, this one felt primarily at the local level, but with sweeping implications for the state budget.
The problem, as Hickenlooper put it in his unusual lame-duck interrogatory, is a familiar one to those steeped in Colorado finance and its intricate web of constitutional requirements.
“Superimposing TABOR (the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights) on the system the Gallagher Amendment created has caused the system to collapse,” Hickenlooper wrote.
So what now? The Colorado Sun, through a review of legislative documents and interviews with top lawmakers and policy experts, found that state policymakers face no shortage of options. But virtually all of them involve political complications, trade-offs and steep hurdles to passage.
Here are five options to watch in the coming months as the clock ticks toward a projected 15-percent cut in property taxes:
Option 1: The status quo.
Here’s what will happenif no one does anything. Based on a year-old forecast, rising property values along the Front Range will once again trigger a statewide property tax cut for homeowners, slashing the residential assessment rate to 6.11 percent from 7.2 percent.
That number’s sure to change. Colorado Legislative Council is expected to update that forecast later this month, and then the Department of Local Affairs will conduct studies due in January and April to come up with a final recommendation to the legislature. Then lawmakers will be asked to pass that number into law, much as they did two years ago when the rate was cut from 7.96 percent.
Homeowners will get a 15 percent tax break. In areas where home values are rising the fastest, that’ll mean relief from their soaring tax bills. In places with stagnant property values, it’ll mean an outright cut from what they paid in prior years.
But that’s not all. The state will owe millions more to K-12 schools each year, adding to funding obligations that Colorado is already failing to meet. The next time the housing market dips, even local governments currently awash in cash will feel the Gallagher pinch, because the assessment rate can’t go back to where it was without a statewide referendum. And if local governments seek voter approval to raise mill levies to compensate, the next tax hike will fall that much harder on businesses, who already pay four times the property tax rate that homeowners do.
Option 2: Someone could sue.
The court’s refusal to take up Hickenlooper’s questions doesn’t mean it wouldn’t weigh in on an actual case that raised the same issues. Local government agencies or even businesses may have grounds for a suit against the state for ignoring the intent of Gallagher, which was to limit residential property taxes to 45 percent of the statewide property tax base, with commercial property owners paying the other 55 percent. In 14 out of 26 years since TABOR passed, businesses have paid more than their 55 percent share, Hickenlooper noted.
But the fix Hickenlooper’s hinting at wouldn’t immediately help rural Colorado. He’s arguing that the residential assessment rate has to be able to rise and fall to maintain the 45-55 split as economic conditions change. (TABOR’s voter approval requirements and politics have prevented that.) If the court agrees, that would allow residential taxes to rise the next time home values fall. But it wouldn’t fix the immediate pinch on rural services. These cuts are happening precisely because the state is hewing to the 45-55 ratio, which Hickenlooper’s questions don’t seek to eliminate.
Option 3: Repeal and replace.
A bipartisan panel of lawmakers tasked with solving this has coalesced around a two-step fix. 1. Send voters a measure to repeal key parts of Gallagher. This would require a two-thirds majority of both chambers, but just a simple majority at the ballot box. 2. Replace it with a statutory version of Gallagher that would apply the ratio region-by-region rather than statewide.
What would this solve? Well, for starters, tax rates on the Western Slope and Eastern Plains would no longer be determined by the whims of the Front Range housing market. Instead, each regional economy would dictate local tax policy. Based on a preliminary analysis by the nonpartisan Colorado Legislative Council, the cuts to most of rural Colorado would stop. Denver homeowners would likely get even more tax relief.
But there are some downsides. It all depends on how you draw the lines, but let’s assume Arapahoe County is in Denver’s region. Struggling rural fire districts there would face even larger cuts. It could create even bigger problems elsewhere. Apply the proposed Gallagher formula to the seven-county northern mountain region, which stretches north from Park County to the Wyoming border, and their property tax rates could eventually be cut in half.
Option 4: Replace.
The politics of this one are really hard, because it would require 55 percent approval at the ballot box. But a proposal from the lesser-known co-creator of Gallagher, former state Sen. Ron Stewart, would rewrite the state constitution to preserve the tax relief provisions. But it would apply only in places where home values are rising fast enough to warrant it, after accounting for inflation and growth.
In counties where Gallagher would cause a net cut in government revenue, the rate would stay the same. If government revenue would still increase, homeowners get the tax cut.
It has some practical complications. Some taxing districts cross county lines, so they’d be charging different rates to different neighborhoods for the exact same services.
But, there are a lot of benefits, as well. By going down to the county level, it mitigates the regional problem, where million-dollar homes in mountain towns are dictating tax rates two counties away. It also retains tax relief in places like Denver without accelerating it, like the regional plan does, because cuts still would be based on a statewide calculation.
This is the simplest solution. It’s also the least likely to pass the legislature.
Repeal and freeze would ask voters to get rid of the Gallagher Amendment entirely and freeze the residential assessment rate. That would prevent continued cuts to rural services. It would prevent shifting additional K-12 costs onto the state.
And it’s likely dead in the water, because it would end property tax relief all over the state, uniting anti-tax Republicans with urban Democrats who are concerned with the rising cost of living along the Front Range.
Some additional food for thought.
The timing is awkward. If lawmakers wanted to prevent a cut in 2019, they should have done something last year. You can’t even attempt to unravel the Gallagher-TABOR knot until the November 2019 election, at the earliest, because you have to ask voters for approval to change the constitution. And, depending on the measure, it might even have to wait until 2020 because of Colorado’s ballot rules. The legislature is required to set a new assessment rate this spring.
No matter what, expect counties and special districts to push the state to backfill their losses. Lawmakers won’t like it — the state already has enough spending needs it can’t afford. But cash-strapped local governments may not want to support any solution that doesn’t offer them the same deal schools have had for years: Protection from future state-mandated cuts.
Statewide, regional, or by county — no matter how you apply Gallagher, it will create winners and losers. Just to illustrate how difficult it is to come up with a statewide formula that works for everyone — if you ignored TABOR and forced the state’s eight economic regions to meet the 45-55 split on their own? Residential assessment rates would range from 3.5 percent to a whopping 33.7 percent.
Denver officials are planning to clear thousands of marijuana convictions prosecuted before its use became legal in the state.
Colorado was among the first states to broadly allow the use and sale of marijuana by adults, but cities elsewhere have led the way on automatic expungement of past misdemeanor marijuana convictions.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Michael Hancock said Tuesday that city officials are still working on a plan to review the low-level convictions deemed eligible, an estimated 10,000 convictions between 2001 and 2013.
Denver officials, including the city attorney, are developing the right approach with the district attorney’s office, said Theresa Marchetta, Hancock’s spokeswoman. The mayor may issue a sweeping executive order or direct city staff to work with legal authorities and clear the cases individually, she said.
San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle announced their efforts early this year, framing the work as an attempt to repair years of damage on people who found that a misdemeanor conviction could bar them from jobs, housing and financial resources.
Just days ago, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty announced he would be filing motions to vacate convictions in cases where people used and/or possessed small amounts of marijuana.
Those convicted of low-level marijuana crimes in Boulder County are invited to submit an electronic application to have their convictions vacated. The district attorney’s office said it will also continue to comb through cases from past years for qualifying convictions and file motions to vacate and seal them “on a regular basis as resources permit.”
Dougherty’s office called it a “a matter of fundamental fairness.”
Minority and low-income communities have been particularly hurt by those barriers, Hancock said in a statement.
“This is an injustice that needs to be corrected, and we are going to provide a pathway to move on from an era of marijuana prohibition that has impacted the lives of thousands of people,” Hancock said in a statement.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia now allow broad marijuana use, and Colorado state lawmakers have begun tackling the issue. California this year passed a law requiring the state Department of Justice to identify marijuana convictions eligible for erasure or reduction and provide lists to local district attorneys.
“It’s a long time in coming,” said Art Way, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Colorado office.
Colorado lets people petition courts to remove low-level offenses including possession from their records. But advocates said that can become expensive and time-consuming, and district attorneys can challenge the requests.
Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.
Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, announced an ambitious plan Tuesday to slash carbon emissions from its electrical generation by 80 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, and emit zero carbon emissions across the eight states where it operates by 2050.
The industry-first initiative comes in direct response to climate change, said Ben Fowke, CEO of the Minneapolis-based company. He emphasized that affordability and reliability are key in achieving the goals.
“This risk of climate change isn’t going away and we want to be the company that does something about it and hopefully inspire others to do something about it too,” Fowke told reporters while in Colorado to announce the major initiative.
At the same time, however, Fowke acknowledged that the technologies are not yet available on the commercial scale to actually reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. The plan is based on the hope that new technology will be developed in time to make reaching the aspirational goal possible.
“If we put our minds to it,” Fowke said, “we will find the best solution to get us there.”
That could include everything from carbon capture to nuclear energy and potentially state-level legislation giving Xcel the ability to add “research and design” on top of its work generating power. It’s notable that Xcel is aiming for zero carbon emissions and not 100 percent renewable energy generation, suggesting that carbon capture is expected to play a significant role in the plan.
Xcel’s bold move — the company says it’s the most ambitious announced to date within the electric-power industry — comes after Gov.-elect Jared Polis ran a campaign on a platform that included moving Colorado to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. It also comes as Democrats prepare to take control of the state legislature when it reconvenes in January and plan to introduce a slate of measures to reduce carbon emissions in Colorado and boost renewable energy generation.
That makes it a politically opportune time for Xcel to announce its new goals, especially as it looks for ways to pay for the transition. Xcel is a regulated utility and any changes to its business model, including the addition of research and development, would require the consent of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.
“We’re evaluating what we need in order to move forward and be successful in this environment,” Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy’s Colorado branch, said of possible legislation. “We don’t absolutely have to have legislation to move forward with the plan.”
But, she said, legislation would allow Xcel to “really dig into those new technologies” and move things along.
Jackson added that Xcel thinks the plan “goes a long way to addressing what Gov.-elect Polis’ administration was running their platform on.” She said that increasing renewable energy is really about reducing carbon emissions.
Jackson also said the goals put the utility in line with communities across Colorado — including Pueblo and Aspen — that are seeking to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy.
“The message that this sends is, ‘You know what, we’re right there with you,’ ” she said.
Xcel has already been moving toward cutting emissions and boosting its renewable energy portfolio in Colorado. In Colorado, 28.5 percent of Xcel’s electricity last year came from renewable sources – 23 percent of that was wind, with the balance from hydro and solar. The company is aiming to have about 55 percent of the electricity on its power grid in Colorado come from renewable sources by 2026.
The utility also says it has since 2005 cut carbon emissions by 35 percent in its eight-state region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas. Xcel has two nuclear power plants in Minnesota.
A rise in activity from anti-Semitic organizations in Colorado is prompting authorities to take additional security precautions to protect Gov.-elect Jared Polis.
The safety measures were evident at the Democratic election night party, where guests navigated a series of walk-through metal detectors to enter the ballroom where Polis declared victory as the state’s first Jewish chief executive and the first openly gay elected governor in the nation.
And it remains visible at recent public appearances, where Polis has been accompanied by a larger protective detail than the one that travels with current Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The Colorado State Patrol, which provides security to the governor-elect, declined to discuss any threats to Polis or details about the additional safety measures. But Trooper Josh Lewis, a patrol spokesman, said the goal is to “make sure they feel safe, and if that requires an additional person or detail,” it is provided.
“We look at any type of threat that may be received,” he said. “The person is the person — be it the governor or the governor’s family. We are obviously going to do our best to protect them with the best information we receive.”
The level of security depends on a number of factors, Lewis added, and “may change day to day depending on whether there is a credible threat.”
The Republican Party did not have walk-through metal detectors at its election night party. Mara Sheldon, a Polis spokeswoman, said she would not answer questions for this story.
Colorado authorities report an uptick in anti-Semitic hate crimes
Colorado saw 106 reported hate crimes in 2017, on par with the prior two years, according to FBI data released in November. But the number of anti-Jewish crimes reported in the state hit a five-year high at 13.
“It’s safe to say we’ve seen an increase in our shop of anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi, white supremacist rhetoric,” said Kevin Klein the division’s director and Hickenlooper’s Homeland Security adviser. “That’s something that’s very concerning.”
Klein said a few threats were deemed credible and referred to the FBI or local law enforcement agencies. The shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, just 10 days before the election, amplified the atmosphere, Klein said. He referred all questions about the governor-elect to the Polis team.
“When it gets specific about an entity or a person, then we start taking that seriously,” he said. “We’ll start investigating that (threat), but we have an obligation to make sure everybody’s First Amendment rights are protected.”
The number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 reported by the Anti-Defamation League is three times the number in Colorado in 2015, according to the organization’s data, which includes instances of harassment and hate speech that don’t rise to the level of a crime.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in incidents in Colorado and across the country,” said Scott Levin, the league’s mountain states regional director. “Certainly there has been an embodiment of hate that’s taking place in Colorado.”
And it’s not just directed at people of Jewish faith, Levin added. He pointed to statistics that show hate crimes based on race, sexual orientation and gender identity have remained relatively flat or show slight declines.
“What’s happening against Jewish people isn’t happening in a vacuum, so it’s important that all communities that are subject to this hate work together and support each other,” he said.
LGBT activist fears backlash after Polis’ victory
Out Boulder County, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, has seen an uptick in discrimination reports across the county beginning over the summer, a problem executive director Mardi Moore attributes to the national political climate under President Donald Trump.
Moore is concerned that even as Colorado elected Polis, there is a minority of voters who are mad the state made history by electing the first openly gay governor.
Discrimination reported in recent weeks included the word “faggot” scrawled in chalk on a sidewalk in an affluent Boulder neighborhood, as well as threats of physical harm. She is on high alert.
“Those folks have become emboldened to say mean-spirited, hateful things without any recourse. Are they more likely to say something now?” Moore wondered. ”It appears to be true.”
In recent weeks, Boulder County launched an anti-bias hotline, a partnership between the district attorney’s office and community groups. Out Boulder County is also working to build stronger relationships with law enforcement, including statewide training on LGBTQ language and bias, Moore said.
A backlash against Polis’ election is possible, but Daniel Ramos, the executive director of the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado, said he is no more worried about discrimination since the election than he was before it.
“We’ve seen a pretty steady stream of discrimination against LGBTQ people,” he said.
Polis’ election is a “real opportunity to continue to send a very clear message about the Colorado way of life,” Ramos said, noting that One Colorado saw “very few incidences of homophobic campaigning” leading up to the election. The organization saw only a few anti-gay posts on social media during the campaign.
“That’s a testament to the progress we have made,” he said.
David Cohen gets a kick out of hearing “GiveFirst,” an oft-repeated phrase that can be traced back to Techstars, the Boulder technology accelerator he co-founded in 2006.
“Someone pointed out a thread to me about Denver Startup Week, and the value of ‘GiveFirst,’ and it never mentioned us or Techstars. And I thought, ‘Awesome,’” said Cohen, Techstars’ co-CEO. “When people come to me from all over the world and ask what makes for a perfect startup community it’s this, without any expectation of return.”
Cohen and fellow tech entrepreneurs-turned investors David Brown, Brad Feld and future Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis, built the motto into the organization early on, and Techstars continues to promote the concept of giving without expecting a transactional return. It’s the first point in Techstars Code of Conduct: “We give first.”
The origin wasn’t rooted in philanthropy. It was about helping other founders wade through challenges that seasoned entrepreneurs had experienced. Techstars is, after all, for-profit and takes an equity cut of companies that go through its program.
But giving first has become the startup community’s motto, mantra and belief system. Since then, other organizations have sprung up to support the local communities and underserved neighbors impacted by a startup’s growth. And it’s spread beyond the Techstars network.
“GiveFirst continues to be the single most defining characteristic of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Colorado,” said Sue Heilbronner, co-founder MergeLane in Boulder, which mentors and invests in women-led companies.
“Six months ago, out of the blue, David Cohen sent us an email to ask if he could give a day of his time to MergeLane teams. A day of his time. He was joined by another 20 high-caliber mentors who said ‘yes’ when we asked,” said Heilbronner, who gives back by offering her time to local nonprofits as an emcee, which she said she really enjoys. “What I notice about how GiveFirst works in Colorado is that it is so much more than lip service.”
Since Techstars launched, the accelerator has expanded to nine countries, and more than 1,000 startups have gone through its programs worldwide. The Boulder and Denver areas, too, have become known as startup hubs and for some, the spirit of entrepreneurial generosity is better known here than, say, Silicon Valley.
“GiveFirst is what has made the Denver and Boulder startup community unique,” said Danny Newman, founder of retail tech firm Roximity and who was part of the early startup scene in Denver. “The concept has certainly spread, but the ethos is what has kept our community supportive and strong. I think it’s what has attracted new people to the area and most people that have grown up in our ecosystem are living it everyday. I could be wrong, but I only seeing it strengthening as the community grows.”
Yoav Lurie, CEO and founder of Simple Energy, has #GiveFirst in his Twitter profile not just because the company graduated from Techstars. In 2015, Lurie said the company was running out of money and had “less than three weeks of cash.” He reached out to Feld on a Friday.
“He (Feld) cleared his calendar the following Monday and helped us map out a plan in a matter of hours that would prove to turn the company around. We’ve grown the company by 10 times and have done so profitably,” said Lurie, whose company partners with power companies to help customers better understand how energy is used and can be conserved.
Feld wasn’t even a board member or investor and still isn’t today.
“He’s helped us become the company we are today as a result of his giving first and there’s never been a clear upside for him, other than cosmic,” Lurie said.
In another example, Lurie said then Gnip CEO Chris Moody reached out to him because he wanted to hire a software engineer, but knew the candidate was more interested in a management role. He encouraged Lurie, who had an opening, to interview the engineer. (Moody sold Gnip to Twitter and 2014 and later joined Feld’s Foundry Group.)
“It was an absolutely crazy thing because of the market for software engineers” was so tight, Lurie said. “And it’s not like (Moody) was an investor in us or had any interest. The only way to say what happened is that it was GiveFirst, not only to us, but to the candidate.”
There is a give-first origin story with Techstars, said Brown, who oversees the accelerator’s global operations. The four founders came together because of relatable experiences in starting tech companies, failing sometimes and financially succeeding other times.
“My goal for the thing was to pay it forward, that’s the term I remember using. Brad Feld had a concept of give before you get. So when Techstars was created, it was a combination of paying it forward and helping other entrepreneurs along. It evolved into hashtag GiveFirst because of Twitter,” Brown said. “The experience of giving first is that you can’t even imagine what comes later, which is why I think we changed it from give before you get. It’s not like I give now and in a year, you’ll give me back. It’s GiveFirst period.”
The motto is still largely a Techstars theme, and many regional offices have their way own of expressing it, like the neon sign at the Los Angeles office, Cohen said. The organization also has a Slack channel dedicated to sharing GiveFirst stories. But it’s not as if this a huge, organized effort, Cohen said.
“The key thing I like to emphasize is we didn’t invent it. It doesn’t belong to us. We’ve been living it as a value and big proponent for startup communities,” Cohen said. “Every once in a while, someone says, ‘You should trademark it.’ But I said no. That’s not the point.”
Outside of Techstars, a nonprofit was created after Rally Software said it wanted to give back to its hometown of Boulder.
Feld, who was on the board of the Community Foundation serving Boulder County, helped create a nonprofit to accept private company pledges of one percent of profits, time or equity back to the community. The organization is now called Pledge 1% Colorado and has partnered with communities in Denver and Northern Colorado. It’s also promoted to all Techstars applicants, director Matt Zwiebel said.
“The full-circle story came back in 2012 or 2013. Rally goes public and their 1 percent turns into just shy of $1.5 million,” Zwiebel said. “They split it in half, so half went to the Community Foundation in Boulder to be granted to the community in the most meaningful way possible. And they also opened up a donor advised fund, which in layman’s terms is a charitable checking account. The foundation holds on to the dollars and the donors, like Rally, can give where they see fit.”
SendGrid, the Techstars email company that went public last year, gives back to the startup community by hosting private workshops, offering office hours to other founders and providing expertise on email marketing. Its employees logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours during its last Community Week program.
“We’re proud that SendGrid has committed 1 percent of our equity over the next 10 years to help our communities thrive,” co-founder Jose Lopez said in an email.
Zwiebel calls it the “little idea from Boulder that could” because it has gone on to become a template for the national Pledge 1% organization. In Colorado, the nonprofit counts 228 companies statewide that have pledged time, money or equity. Some, like eco-minded bedsheet company Sheets and Giggles in Denver, donate product, while others like Boulder tech company Scaled Agile, match employee volunteerism with a check. Pledge 1% Colorado has raised about $8 million.
Pledge 1% is participating in Tuesday’s Colorado Gives Day, which is going on its ninth year. Aiming to connect Coloradans to 2,500 vetted nonprofits, the annual event takes donations online at ColoradoGives.org.
As Techstars grew, so did the spirit of giving first in other startup communities outside Colorado.
Troy Henikoff, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University near Chicago, visited the Boulder Techstars Demo Day in 2009 because it featured a company run by former students.
While there, he noticed that 25 percent of Techstars graduates involved Chicagoans, even though Chicago was just 1 percent of the U.S. population. But none of the entrepreneurs returned to Illinois. He felt like he had to do something.
“I remember it vividly,” Henikoff said. “We were sitting at a Mexican restaurant in Boulder and said we have to do this in Chicago. … We talked about it (with Cohen and Feld) and they basically said, ‘Listen, we’re too busy. It’s not public yet but we’re going to open in Seattle and New York in the next year. But you should do it.’ We were disappointed, but they said no, no, no, we’ll help you.”
After weekly calls with Cohen and other Techstars advice on how to set it up, he co-founded Excelerate Labs in 2010. Three years later, Techstars acquired Excelerate.
“I do think it’s a great example of GiveFirst because they helped us with no expectation of return,” Henikoff said. “I think it’s a cultural thing. We try to practice GiveFirst all the time. Every Friday I have open office hours. And 99 percent of the time, it’s just a 30-minute conversation.”
Two Denver-area midwifery practices that have delivered thousands of babies in the past two decades, many born to low-income, inner-city mothers and refugee families, are closing their doors.
Midwives, social workers and other employees at the practices linked to Rose Medical Center and Aurora Medical Center were informed Friday by the for-profit parent company of the hospitals and the midwifery clinics, Hospital Corporation of America or HCA. Hundreds of pregnant women who are current patients at the two practices will receive letters from the hospitals this week.
Rose Midwifery, next to Rose Medical Center, has about 700 pregnant patients and typically delivers 50 to 100 babies per month. The 22-year-old practice includes nine midwives, several medical assistants and three social workers who work with new mothers whose babies are at risk of growing up in unsafe environments.
Employees at the clinic were told not to give media interviews about its closure but said their jobs will last two more months. HealthOne, which runs multiple hospitals in the metro area under the HCA parent company, confirmed the closures Monday night but did not provide any interviews.
Rose Midwifery and Colorado Nurse Midwives in Aurora will close Jan. 31. The clinics will help any patients whose due dates fall after that date transition to other care, HCA Healthcare spokeswoman Angie Anania said in an emailed statement. She did not provide any reason for the closures or say how many patients will have to find other care.
“We are extremely proud of the clinical care provided by the Rose Midwifery clinic and the Colorado Nurse Midwives clinic,” she said. “Our patients remain our top priority.”
Midwives are often nurses trained in labor and delivery for patients with normal, low-risk pregnancies. Women who seek out midwifery typically are looking for a more holistic approach to birth, with the possibility of having their baby at home.
The midwifery practices at Rose and Aurora Medical Center are not providing the “boutique” care offered by some private practices that cater to women with private insurance, however. Instead, they serve mainly patients who have Medicaid, which is government insurance for the poor.
Dr. Kent Heyborne, chief of obstetrics for Denver Health and an expert in maternal-fetal medicine, called the news “very disconcerting and very upsetting.”
He noted that black women in the United States are two to four times more likely to die in pregnancy compared with white women. Minority and poorer women, the same population served by the clinics at Rose and Aurora Medical Center, are more likely to have complications including preeclampsia, hypertension and high-blood pressure, as well as more likely to die by suicide and overdose during pregnancy.
“The underserved are the ones who need the care most and often are the ones who have the hardest time getting the care,” he said. “It’s just going to make their fight worse and put their lives and their health in graver danger. It’s not what you would like to see happening in the United States in 2018.”
Denver Health, which delivers about 3,400 babies per year, mostly to underserved women, likely will make up for some of the community loss of the clinics, he said. At Denver Health, midwives typically handle the prenatal care and appointments for women with normal, healthy pregnancies, while doctors take the high-risk cases. Patients can choose whether they want a physician or midwife to attend their delivery, and midwives handle about one-third of all births.
The model is less expensive than having doctors handle all prenatal care and delivery, and it has good health outcomes, Heyborne said.
“Most women don’t need much besides some tender-loving care and support,” he said. “The midwives are better at keeping their hands off of patients during delivery. They don’t intervene unnecessarily.”
Several private obstetrics practices in the Denver area employ midwives, but typically take only a small percentage of Medicaid patients, Heyborne said.
The closure of the midwifery clinics is a “huge loss to the community,” he said. “It will be very hard for them to get care anywhere else. The danger is that it will put these women at risk and they will be left without health care. It’s an ugly scenario.”
Dana Nitchke had her first child, a now 2-year-old girl, with Rose Midwifery and is now seven months pregnant with her second. Her due date is Jan. 24, one week before the clinic will shut its doors.
She was waiting for her husband to get home from work Monday night so they could decide whether to find a new clinic now or stick with Rose and hope their second baby girl comes in time. “Babies come when babies come,” said Nitchke, who worked as a nurse at Rose several years ago. “If I don’t have the baby before Jan. 31, you are basically walking into the hospital with people you don’t know and have never met before.”
Even though Nitchke moved from Denver to the south suburb of Centennial since her first daughter was born, she is driving up to Rose for medical appointments and planned to have her baby there because she loved the midwifery experience that much.
“It’s horrible,” she said of the news the practice is shutting down. “They were very knowledgeable, open and kind. I just felt comfortable with them.”
Nitchke felt more comfortable at the midwifery clinic, she said, in part because her midwife was a woman, but mostly because she never felt pressured about inducing delivery or any other medical procedures. She led the way, and they were there to support her.
“They are not trying to push you into anything,” she said.
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